Is Youth Bulge a Crucial Determinant of Stability?
By Katherine Carter
Today approximately 44 percent of the world’s 7.2 billion people are under 24 years old – and 26 percent are under 14. Of those 7.2 billion people, a staggering 82 percent live in less developed regions of the world – primarily sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Currently, the global median age is 29.2 years old, a sharp contrast to Europe, for example, where the median age is 41.
This population phenomenon, called “youth bulge,” is especially prevalent in fragile states and Africa. Youth bulge specifically refers to a disproportionate percentage of a state population being between the ages of 15 and 24 years old. This is, however, almost always accompanied by a greater percentage of the population being under 14. Of the 20 states with the lowest median ages, 18 are in sub-Saharan Africa. The UN predicts that the median age will rise to 42 years old by the century’s end, and with it the population will increase to 10.9 billion people. Developing and least developed countries have the highest fertility rates and many are expected to triple in population by 2100. The populations of Burkina Faso, Malawi, Niger, Mali, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia are predicted to increase by 500%. In absolute numbers, population growth remains concentrated in six countries: India, Nigeria, D.R. Congo, the United States, Tanzania, and Uganda. With the exception of the United States, each of those countries has a median age under the global average.
A young population can drive national growth, if the government and economy are strong enough to provide opportunities for upward mobility and financial independence. The problems begin when a young labor force finds itself unemployed, restless, poverty stricken, and uneducated. In recent years, countries with young populations have proven especially vulnerable to conflict, extremism and civil strife. Of the 67 nations currently experiencing youth bulges, 60 are also experiencing civil unrest and conflict.
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