Much has been made of the challenges of aging societies. But it’s the youth bulge that stands to put greater pressure on the global economy, sow political unrest, spur mass migration and have profound consequences for everything from marriage to Internet access to the growth of cities.
The parable of our time might well be: Mind your young, or they will trouble you in your old age.
A fourth of humanity is now young (ages 10 to 24). The vast majority live in the developing world, according to the United Nations Population Fund.
Nowhere can the pressures of the youth bulge be felt as profoundly as in India. Every month, some one million young Indians turn 18 — coming of age, looking for work, registering to vote and making India home to the largest number of young, working-age people anywhere in the world.Now, to be sure, there is nothing new here to readers of my book, and Debbie Fugate and I go into this topic in considerable historical detail in our book on The Youth Bulge: Challenge or Opportunity? In particular, we point out that a large young population in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. It can even be beneficial if it is truly a bulge (rather than just a crowed, so to speak), in which recently declining low fertility is leading to an increasingly smaller cohort behind this current one. This is the now classic "demographic dividend." As I noted a few days ago, this happened in China, but not India, which is why India is about to surpass China as the most populous country in the world, and also why China's per person income has been rising faster than India's. Sengupta writes in her book End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India's about her family leaving India at the time that Indira Gandhi was trying to implement a mandatory vasectomy program to bring down the birth rate. This was just before China implemented its one-child policy. Both governments realized that a much lower birth rate was going to make a much better future. A key difference, though, as I discuss in my book, is that fertility was already declining in China when the one-child policy was implemented. In China, there was a population trapped by communism, but also one that was more amenable to lower fertility than was the population of India at the time. Indeed, Paul Ehrlich's Population Bomb was inspired by a trip he made to India in the late 1960s.
Still, the table Sengupta put together for her story is worth repeating here, because it tells us a lot about why some parts of the world are in a bigger mess than other parts: