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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

1.8 Billion Young People in the World--Challenge or Opportunity?

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) today released its State of World Population 2014 report. [Note: This is not to be confused with the regular World Population Prospects issued by the UN Population Division when it revises its population projections.] The report highlights the fact that the population aged 10-24 is 1.8 billion people--the largest number the word has ever seen in this age range. Is this a challenge or opportunity? The New York Times covered the story:
The majority is concentrated in the poor countries of the global south, and there are more than 350 million in India alone. India is also among several countries where the shape of the population is changing profoundly: Fertility rates are dropping, which means a growing share of working-age men and women and a diminishing share of children to care for. That shift, the report asserts, is “opening a window for a demographic dividend,” but not without significant investments in preparing its young people to join the work force.
“The emergence of a large youth population of unprecedented size can have a profound effect on any country,” the report concludes. “Whether that effect is positive or negative depends largely on how well governments respond to young people’s needs and enable them to engage fully and meaningfully in civic and economic affairs.”
The emphasis on the demographic dividend possibilities (the "opportunities") is not surprising since the research adviser for the report was David Bloom at Harvard, who helped to popularize the concept. And, of course, the point is well taken that the key to the future is what a society can do with its youth--if it can educate them at the same time that it facilitates a quick drop in the birth rate, you have China (and India has moved in that direction, but not as effectively on either score as China). If you ignore the youth bulge, you have ISIS in the Middle East. It seems like an easy choice, but it turns out that governments tend to lean toward ignoring the problem--challenging the rest of us in the process.

1 comment:

  1. well ... my gut reaction is that it's a challenging situation with demographics.

    On the positive side - young people are very connected through mobile phones and the Internet. so they are able to talk to each other in remarkable ways!

    On the negative side ... does this translate into mature judgments? The world is facing critical issues, a serious lack of informed decision making on a global scale, and plenty of people who are "willing to stir the pot". It takes experience and maturity to recognize the real issues and how to deal with them constructively. The 1.8 billion young people don't have that yet - but they need it badly.

    Pete, Redondo Beach, CA