Youth population trends and sustainable development

Youth population trends and sustainable development
May 2015
No. 2015/1
Youth population trends and sustainable development
T
here were 1.2 billion youth aged 15-24 years globally in
2015, accounting for one out of every six people
worldwide.1 By 2030, the target date for the sustainable
development goals, the number of youth is projected to
have grown by 7 per cent, to nearly 1.3 billion. Youth can
be a positive force for development when provided with
the knowledge and opportunities they need to thrive. In
particular, young people should acquire the education and
skills needed to contribute in a productive economy, and
they need access to a job market that can absorb them into
its labour force. Among the greatest challenges facing
many countries today are inadequate human capital
investment and high unemployment rates among youth.
Some countries are struggling currently to educate and
employ their young people, while also anticipating
substantial growth in the number of youth. These
countries will be doubly challenged in their efforts to
assure universal high-quality education, productive
employment and decent work for all.2 This brief
summarises recent and future trends in the size of the
youth population and describes the challenges facing
countries in educating and employing their youth.
1. The size of the youth population has peaked
in all regions but Africa.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, Northern
America and Oceania, youth populations have stabilized in
size and are projected to change little over the coming
decades (figure 1).
By contrast, Asia and Africa are in the midst of substantial
changes in the size of their youth populations. After rapid
and sustained growth through the latter half of the
twentieth century, the number of young people aged 1524 years in Asia is projected to decline from 718 million in
2015 to 711 million in 2030 and 619 million in 2060. Still,
Asia will be home to more youth than any other region
until around 2080, when it could be surpassed by Africa
according to United Nations projections.
In Africa, the number of youth is growing rapidly. In 2015,
226 million youth aged 15-24 years lived in Africa,
accounting for 19 per cent of the global youth population.
By 2030, it is projected that the number of youth in Africa
will have increased by 42 per cent. Africa’s youth
population is expected to continue to grow throughout
the remainder of the twenty-first century, more than
doubling from current levels by 2055.
Figure 1. Youth aged 15‐24 years, by region, 1950‐2060
Youth aged 15‐24 years (millions)
800
700
Asia
600
Africa
500
300
Latin America and
the Caribbean
Europe
200
Northern America
400
100
0
1950
Oceania
1960
1970
1980
1990
2000
2010
2020
2030
2040
2050
2060
Data source: United Nations (2013) World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision.
May 2015
POPFACTS, No. 2015/1
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2. Many countries with rapidly growing youth
populations are struggling already to educate
their young people.
The education systems of many countries are leaving
behind a substantial proportion of the population.
According to the most recent data available, in 32
countries, fewer than 80 per cent of 15-24 year-olds are
literate. Of these 32 countries, 18 are projected to see a
more than 40 per cent increase in the number of youth
between 2015 and 2030. In six of these low-literacy
countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa, the growth of the youth
population in this period is projected to exceed 60 per cent
(figure 2).
In Niger, for example, where just 24 per cent of youth were
literate in 2014, the youth population is projected to grow
by 92 per cent within the next 15 years. Angola, Burkina
Faso, Chad, Mali, Nigeria, the United Republic of Tanzania
and Zambia, among others, are also anticipating rapid
growth of the population aged 15-24 years in a context of
low youth literacy rates.
Inadequate investment in the health and education of
young people limits their ability to reach their full
productive potential and to contribute to economic
development. Rapid growth in the number of youth
further compounds that challenge, requiring countries to
improve the quality and reach of their education systems
not only to make up for existing deficiencies, but also to
serve the rapidly growing number of young people.
By contrast, many countries that have experienced fertility
reductions in recent decades now have an opportunity to
improve the education available to their young people
without needing simultaneously to serve a rapidly growing
population of youth. In Pakistan, for example, where 71 per
cent of the population aged 15-24 years was literate in
2011, the number of youth is projected grow by only 5 per
cent between 2015 and 2030. Similarly, in Haiti, with a
youth literacy rate of 72 per cent in 2006, the youth
population is projected to increase by 7 per cent over the
next 15 years.
In some parts of the world, girls and young women do not
have the same access to education and training as their
male peers, depriving them of their rights and the ability to
make decisions about their lives, including the pursuit of
higher education and formal employment. Empowering
women and girls and ensuring equitable investments in
their human capital are essential for sustainable
development.
Change in youth population between 2015 and 2030 (percentage) Figure 2. Projected growth of the youth population between 2015 and 2030 vs. the youth literacy rate
Data sources: Youth population estimates and projections are from United Nations (2013) World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision. Youth literacy estimates are from United Nations (2014). MDG Indicators
Database.
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POPFACTS, No. 2015/1
May 2015
Change in youth population between 2015 and 2030 (percentage) Figure 3. Projected growth of the youth population between 2015 and 2030 vs. the youth unemployment rate in 2015
Unemployment rate among 15‐24 years‐olds (percentage) Data sources: Youth population estimates and projections are from United Nations (2013) World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision. Youth unemployment projections are from ILO (2015). World Employment and
Social Outlook: Trends 2015.
3. Some countries anticipating rapid growth in
numbers of youth are among those with very
high youth unemployment rates.
rates of 14 and 24 per cent respectively in 2015, are
projected to see their youth populations grow by 60 per
cent over the next 15 years.
In Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, for example, youth
unemployment rates are very high, above 30 per cent, and
the youth populations are expected to grow by more than
20 per cent over the coming 15 years (figure 3). By contrast,
a number of countries, such as South Africa, Spain and
Greece, face extremely high youth unemployment, with
rates above 50 per cent, but are projected to see a slower
growth of the youth population, with increases around 10
per cent or less between 2015 and 2030.
If youth are provided with sufficient education, training
and jobs, then the growth in their numbers could be highly
beneficial for development. If instead they are unemployed
or underemployed in subsistence agriculture, the growing
number of youth will pose a challenge to the achievement
of sustainable development, and could prove socially or
politically destabilizing as well.3 Moreover, current
unemployment among youth impedes social and
economic development not just for today but also for the
future, since youth who experience a delayed start in the
labour force tend to continue to lag behind in terms of
earnings and income growth once they become
employed.4
Even in countries where youth unemployment rates are
comparatively low, rapid growth in the number of youth
over the coming years could challenge sustainable
development, if labour markets are unable to absorb
rapidly increasing numbers of young workers. In Mali, for
example, a large fraction of the labour force is still engaged
in subsistence agriculture.
Even though the youth
unemployment rate in 2015, at just under 11 per cent, is
substantially lower than in many other countries, the
number of youth aged 15-24 years in 2030 is projected to
be 70 per cent larger than in 2015. Thus, Mali’s economy
will need to grow to accommodate a substantially larger
number of youth seeking to enter the labour force.
Similarly, Nigeria and Zambia, with youth unemployment
May 2015
Several countries with comparatively low youth
unemployment rates are projected to see declines in the
number of youth in the coming 15 years. In Thailand, for
example, youth unemployment is projected to be just 3
per cent in 2015 and the population aged 15-24 years is
expected to shrink by 22 per cent by 2030. Cuba, Japan and
Viet Nam are also projected to see declines in the number
of youth in a context of low youth unemployment. These
economies must prepare for an ageing labour force in the
coming decades.
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3
4. Youth education and employment are
essential to harnessing the opportunities for
economic
growth
associated
with
the
demographic dividend.
When a population experiences a sustained decline in
fertility rates, the share of the population composed of
children declines while the share in the working ages
grows larger. Demographers and economists have
heralded the window of opportunity presented by this
“demographic dividend”, wherein the relative abundance
of working-age people can lead to increased savings,
higher productivity and more rapid economic growth.5
However, the ability of countries to harness the
demographic dividend depends critically on their
investments in human capital, particularly amongst young
people poised to enter the labour force, whose
productivity, entrepreneurship and innovation will drive
future economic growth. If human capital investment falls
short or if the labour market is unable to absorb new
workers, the opportunity of this demographic dividend
may be squandered.
The importance of investment in youth for a full realisation
of the demographic dividend is evident in a comparison of
recent trends in population age structure, youth
employment and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita
in Tunisia and the Republic of Korea (figure 4). Both
countries are experiencing historic highs in the proportion
of the population in the working ages, owing to fertility
declines that took place over the latter half of the
twentieth century. The share
of persons aged 15-64 years rose from just over 50 per cent
in the late 1960s to around 70 per cent in 2015 in both
countries. The two countries differ markedly, however,
with respect to youth employment. In Tunisia, the
proportion unemployed amongst persons aged 15-24
years has hovered around 30 per cent or more since the
early 1990s, whereas in the Republic of Korea only around
10 per cent of youth were unemployed over the same
period. Trends in economic growth have likewise differed
markedly since the early 1980s: in Tunisia, per capita GDP
tripled between 1980 and 2010, whereas for the Republic
of Korea it increased by a factor of 12. Although a host of
factors help to determine the pace of economic growth for
a given country, the lack of employment opportunities for
large fractions of youth in Tunisia and elsewhere has
limited the economic potential offered by the favourable
population age structure associated with the demographic
dividend.
__
NOTES
1
Data are from World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision, CD-ROM
Edition-Extended Dataset (United Nations Publications, Sales No.
13.XIII.10)
2
A/RES/66.288 The Future We Want
3
Urdal, H. (2012). A clash of generations? Youth bulges and political
violence. United Nations Population Division Expert Paper No. 2012/1.
4
Gregg, P., and E. Tominey (2005). The wage scar from male youth
unemployment. Labour Economics, vol. 12, No. 4, pp.487-509.
5
Mason, A. (2005). Demographic dividends: the past, the present, and the
future.
Figure 4. Share of working‐age population, youth unemployment and GDP trends in Tunisia and the Republic of Korea, 1950‐2015
25000
20000
60
50
15000
40
10000
30
20
5000
10
0
0
1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
25000
70
Percentage
Percentage
70
80
GDP per capita (current US$)
80
Republic of Korea
20000
60
50
15000
40
10000
30
20
5000
10
0
0
1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
Percentage of population aged 15‐64 years GDP per capita (current US$)
Tunisia
Percentage of 15‐24 year‐olds unemployed GDP per capita Data sources: Working age population is from United Nations (2013) World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision. Youth unemployment is from ILO (2015). World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2015. GDP is
from World Bank (2014). World Development Indicators.
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May 2015
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