Demographic Dividend or POTENTIAL for Demographic Dividend?

February 11, 2016 shutterstock_340975019 copy

The demographic transition phase of increasing working age population (15-64), especially in countries in the Global South, has to be harnessed to reap the Demographic Dividend

By Sai Jyothirmai Jyothirmai Racherla, Programme Manager, ARROW (@RSaiJyothi)

The 2015 Revision of the World Population prospects posits the world population at 7.3 billion.[i]  According the population prospects, young people constitute a significant proportion of the world’s people today. In Africa, children under age 15 account for 41% of the population in 2015 and young persons aged 15 to 24 account for a further 19%. Latin America and the Caribbean and Asia, which have seen greater declines in fertility, have smaller percentages of children (26% and 24%, respectively) and similar percentages of youth (17% and 16%, respectively). In total, these three regions are home to 1.7 billion children and 1.1 billion young persons in 2015.[ii]

Countries with a relatively high ratio of working (15-64) to dependent populations have the possibility of benefitting from a Demographic Dividend. The Demographic Dividend is the potential growth in a country’s economy resulting from a change in the age structure of its population. Economic growth increases as the proportion of working-age population (15-64) grows during the demographic transition, the period when mortality and fertility rates decline.[iii]

In population and development discourse, conversations, and messaging we generally say countries are entering into a phase of demographic dividend as if this is granted and inevitable. This messaging especially to governments in the Global South can be misleading, as unless governments put in place effective policies and implement such programmes, reaping the full demographic dividend may not be possible.

This is not a spontaneous process where an increase in working age population would mean a dividend and economic growth in the respective countries, especially in the Global South and  regions. There have been some arguments stating fertility decline in low income settings will yield substantial automatic dividend in reducing poverty in low income countries irrespective of positive growth friendly policies. This can be contended because achieving the full demographic dividend will be a far-cry unless we have positive, affirmative and enabling socio-economic policies that address structural inequalities, multidimensional facets of poverty, and discriminatory socio-economic policies already in place in respective countries.

We live in a historic time today, with more people in the in the age group of 10-24. However about 9 out of 10 people between the ages of 10-24[iv] live in less developed countries with less than optimal investments in health care, education, and employment and overall access to opportunities.

Countries in the South Asia region (early dividend phase), and the Sub-Saharan Africa region (pre-dividend phase) will have to invest in working-age population including young people, development and well-being to reap the demographic dividend to its fullest extent.

This requires key investments by respective governments in the following areas:

a)     Respect, protection, and fulfilment of human rights;

b)     Implementation of RIGHT socio-economic, public health, education, labour related development policies;

c)     Ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for all, including the poorest and those disadvantaged because of their sex, age, disability, ethnicity, geographic location or other status. Key SRH services to optimise demographic dividend will include access to comprehensive sexuality education, provision of a range of contraceptive methods for women and young people irrespective of marital status based on a human rights framework, addressing the unmet need for contraception, and ensuring access to maternal health services including safe abortion services;

d)     Empowering women and young people, especially young girls, through access to education, vocational and technical training and removal of barriers to labour force participation, and access to economic assets;

e)     Addressing and ending harmful traditional and cultural practices such as early, forced and child marriages;

f)      Addressing the issue of conflict which is threatening human development and is becoming an inevitable reality of our lives;

g)     And last but not the least, climate change impact such as altered eco systems, and extreme weather conditions remain critical challenges for governments to address.


[i] United Nations. 2015. World Population Prospects. Retrieved from

[ii] United Nations. 2015. World Population Prospects. Retrieved from

[iii] Bloom DE, Canning D, and Sevilla J. 2003. The demographic dividend: A new perspective on the economic consequences of population change. Population Matters Monograph MR-1274. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation

[iv] UNFPA. 2014. The State of World Population 2014. Retrieved from