We are writing this from Pretoria, at the seventh African Population Conference (APC) jointly hosted by the government of South Africa and the Union for African Population Studies (UAPS). The conference is convened only once every four years, so this was a rare opportunity for the World Bank Group to engage the region’s academicians and policymakers on the conference’s key theme: Demographic Dividend in Africa: Prospects, Opportunities and Challenges.
With positive signals for fertility decline emerging in sub-Saharan Africa, and development economists debating the potential for African countries to see a “demographic dividend,” it’s a good time to look more closely at the data linking female education and childbearing.
Africa’s population grew at an average annual rate of 2.6 percent between 1950 and 2014, much faster than the global average of 1.7 percent as estimated from UN population projection data. During this time, the region experienced a demographic transition, moving from a period of high mortality and fertility rates to one of lower mortality, yet still high fertility rates. Other regions, most notably East Asia, took advantage of their transitions to accelerate growth, and reap a so-called ‘demographic dividend’. Africa is now being presented a similar opportunity.
From my seat as an Education economist at the World Bank, I go through a number of strategies from countries and sectors in Africa outlining how best to achieve economic growth and development. I am repeatedly struck by a key question: Who will do it? Who will add value to African exports? Who will build? Who will invent? Who will cure? The answer is, of course, that graduates from African universities and training institutions should do it. But the problem is one of numbers and quality—there are simply not enough graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and programs are of uneven quality.
Sri Lanka's population is young now, but getting older quickly. What does this demographic transition mean to you and for Sri Lanka?
Join a live chat Jan. 7 on the World Bank Sri Lanka Facebook page with experts including Indralal De Silva, professor at the University of Colombo; Sundararajan Gopalan, senior health, nutrition, and population specialist with the World Bank; Shalika Subasinghe, social protection consuiltant with the World Bank; and Tehani Ariyaratne of the Center for Poverty Analysis (CEPA).
The discussion will focus on the dimensions of growing old in Sri Lanka and move on to the challenge Sri Lanka is facing in dealing with an aging population with limited resources.
Twenty-five of the 28 high-fertility (more than 5 children per woman) countries are in Africa. This and related facts have revived the concern that Africa will miss out on the “demographic dividend” –the rapid economic growth rates associated with declining fertility, as experienced by many countries in Asia. But Africa is also the continent with the slowest economic growth in the past. And, as The Economist (and others) pointed out, economic growth is probably the best contraceptive.
Much has been said about Sri Lanka’s uniqueness among developing countries; no one can deny that the oldest population pyramid outside of wealthy countries.
The demographic transition implies an aging of the population, but before old-age dependency becomes an issue, there is an intermediate period of a demographic dividend when a larger proportion of the population will be at the prime working age. The success to managing the long-term age-dependency effects of the demographic transition is to use this intermediate period of demographic dividend to conserve resources for future use and to plan for a more cost-effective strategy to deal with the future age burden. This will allow older people to live a happy productive life.
The challenge is to develop a strategic approach that takes advantage of the demographic dividend period both in terms of making strategic decisions for future cost-effectiveness and save resources for future use.