Countries like South Korea and Thailand have seen similar demographic formulas work to their advantage in recent decades: falling fertility rates lead to burgeoning adult working populations lead to greater economic productivity.
How did they harness these changes to create engines of growth? According to speakers at a World Bank panel on “Realizing the Demographic Dividend ,” greater investments in health, family planning, and gender equality paved the way, followed by further investments in education, youth development, and job creation.When Thailand launched a national family planning policy in the 1960s, “the dividend to the economy turned out to be larger than expected,” said H.E. Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala,
Minister of Finance for Thailand. Women were able to access education, leave rural areas, and take jobs in manufacturing and services. Eventually, women decided to delay having children, he said, and the economy benefited from an expanded workforce.
Bank Vice President for Human Development Tamar Manuelyan Atinc, who chaired the panel, further emphasized the link between gender equality and demographic change, expanding on a key theme  of this year’s Annual Meetings.
“Issues of women’s empowerment are intricately linked to access to family planning,” she said. “Women don’t always have the negotiating power within the household to avail themselves of contraception.”
Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said reducing the price of modern contraceptive tools is key to spurring economic development, and is a focus of her foundation’s work. “There are 215 million women who would like access to contraception and don’t have it,” she said. “There are 75 million unintended pregnancies--that has huge economic impact.”
U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Raj Shah urged Ministers of Finance to invest in reducing child deaths through immunizations and malaria prevention efforts, promote girls’ education and support family planning programs, to achieve greater economic growth.
At a time when the global population is about to hit 7 billion, Shah noted, “every country is searching aggressively for sustainable growth strategies.”
Gates reinforced Shah’s message online after the event, Tweeting : “The investment case for family planning is clear.”