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Aging: A problem in Africa as well?

Sudharshan Canagarajah's picture

Recently, while reviewing a document, I came across a statistic about age dependency* in the Republic of Mauritius. Mauritius already had an age dependency ratio of 10.9 in 2010 and this is projected to rise to 25 by 2030 and 37 by 2050, which is at par with many East Asian economies. Aging issues in Europe and parts of Asia have already become an economic and fiscal policy concern over the last few years and will remain so for the foreseeable future, could it also become a problem for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) sooner than realized?

With 43 percent of the population below the age of 15 and only three percent above the age of 65, Sub-Saharan Africa is a predominantly young continent. The problems emanating from an ageing population, such as rising age dependency ratios and increasing health care costs, are far over the horizon as far as the continent is concerned. However, this may not remain so for long and definitely not for all the countries. Let me explain why.

Youth Bulge: A Demographic Dividend or a Demographic Bomb in Developing Countries?

Justin Yifu Lin's picture

The youth bulge is a common phenomenon in many developing countries, and in particular, in the least developed countries.   It is often due to a stage of development where a country achieves success in reducing infant mortality but mothers still have a high fertility rate. The result is that a large share of the population is comprised of children and young adults, and today’s children are tomorrow’s young adults. 

Figures 1 (a)-(b) provide some illustrative examples. Dividing the world into more and less developed groupings (by UN definitions) reveals a large difference in the age distribution of the population. The share of the population in the 15 to 29 age bracket is about 7 percentage points higher for the less developed world than the more developed regions. In Africa (both Sub-Saharan and North Africa), we see that about 40 percent of the population is under 15, and nearly 70 percent is under 30 (Figure 1(a)). In a decade, Africa’s share of the population between 15 and 29 years of age may reach 28 percent of its population.  In some countries in “fragile situations” (by World Bank definitions), almost three-quarters of the population is under 30 (examples in Figure 1(b)), and a large share of 15-29 year olds will persist for decades to come (Figures 1(c) and (d)).