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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)).