“Largest youth population in human history”

An interesting article discusses the demography of those under 30 in fragile nations, “As tweets and headlines skip from crisis to crisis, the largest youth population in human history is coming of age in a steady, unstoppable wave. While countries across Europe and East Asia are grappling with declining birthrates and aging populations, societies across the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia are experiencing youth booms of staggering proportions: More than half of Egypt’s labour force is younger than age 30. Half of Nigeria’s population of 167 million is between the ages of 15 and 34. In Afghanistan, Angola, Chad, East Timor, Niger, Somalia, and Uganda, more than two-thirds of the population is under the age of 25. How well these young people transition to adulthood — and how well their governments integrate them economically, politically, and socially — will influence whether their countries thrive or implode. Surging populations of young people will have the power to drive political and social norms, influence what modes of governance will be adopted and the role women will play in society, and embrace or discredit extremist ideologies. They are the fulcrum on which future social attitudes rest”.

It goes on to aruge “These young people could transform entire regions, making them more prosperous, more just, and more secure. Or they could also unleash a flood of instability and violence. Or both. And if their countries are not able to accommodate their needs and aspirations, they could generate waves of migration for decades. In the face of this deluge of young people, world leaders should be strategizing and taking steps daily that steer us all toward the former and away from the latter. But as serial acts of global terrorism, large-scale humanitarian disasters, perplexing political trends in Europe like Brexit and persistent economic fragility demand urgent attention, the question emerges: Is anyone even paying attention? Consider India. More than 300 million Indians are under the age of 15, making India home to more children than any country, at any time, in all of human history. To put the size of this generation’s numbers into perspective consider this: If these children formed a country, that country would be the fourth-largest in the world, still smaller than the United States but larger than Indonesia, Brazil, and Pakistan”.

Interestingly it notes “Every month until 2030, one million Indians will turn 18 years old, observes Somini Sengupta, the reporter and author of a compelling new book, The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young. These young people will need both education and jobs — lots of them — in a global economy that is most certainly going to feature more automation and fewer of the semi-skilled manufacturing jobs that absorbed earlier youth surges elsewhere in Asia. If India succeeds in this respect, its coming demographic bonanza holds the potential to create an unprecedented surge in the country’s economic health. If not, its youth boom could rock the world’s largest democracy and second-largest population with sustained instability. “In the coming years, India can thrive because of its young. Or it can implode. Or both. There’s little time left,” writes Sengupta”.

He notes similar trends in Africa and the Middle East, “Booming youth populations are the demographic equivalent of wild cards for those trying to predict the trajectory of large, strategically important, and politically volatile countries like Pakistan and Iran. In Pakistan, two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30. Many of these young people will only know Pakistan after its latest transition to democracy from 2008 to 2010 and after Pakistan ended its most recent war with India in 1999. They will also know political corruption, extremist violence, and dire shortages of energy and water. In Iran, two-thirds of the population is currently under the age of 35. These young people are educated, tech savvy, and full of potential. Whereas the revolution will be something they learned about in school, many will remember seeing Iranians pour into the streets during the Green Movement or to celebrate the nuclear deal with the United States”.

Crucially he writes that “Unfortunately, the countries that have most of the world’s young people are also the ones that are the most ill-equipped to grapple with their needs, ambitions, expectations, and inevitable frustrations — let alone capitalise on their potential. According to the United Nations, developing countries are home to 89 percent of the world’s 10- to 24-year-olds; by 2020, they will be home to nine out of every 10 people globally. Like too many developing countries, countries like Chad and Niger rank high on lists of the world’s most fragile states. They also have populations in which half of their citizens are under the age of 16. With this information, it is all too easy to conjure a dystopic future, the Hollywood caricature of a lawless developing country dominated by gangs of rough-talking young men brandishing firearms (Think, “I’m the captain now.”) But what if we made a different choice? What if the world invested in the potential of these young people? It is feasible to believe these countries could pull themselves out of poverty and instability within a generation — the way China did, the way India might. But if the international community fails to act now, we will all suffer the consequences”.

The author notes that “the developing world’s youth boom coincides with four interrelated global trends: an information revolution, the largest movement of refugees and displaced people in recorded history, growing urbanisation that will concentrate youth in cities, and a rise in terrorism and extremist ideologies. Together these trends will spread not just people but, more importantly, their ideas at an unprecedented rate. They will raise and dash expectations pushing and pulling young people toward and away from their hometowns and homelands, toward and away from their desired futures. They will make young people around the globe aware of how others are living, the divisions within their societies, and how those they identify with are treated by governments, security forces, and other groups. This knowledge can inspire or anger. It can commit people to elevating their families and communities — or make them lash out against them”.

Importantly he notes “Youth booms historically paid dividends in the form of economic growth. South Korea, for instance, translated its youth boom into twelvefold GDP per capita growth between 1970 and today, keeping unemployment for its large youth population around 10 percent. If this history repeats in large population centers like India and Pakistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia, Egypt and Iran — all of which currently have unusually large youth populations — economic booms will transform whole regions. But the ability of developing countries to create enough jobs in today’s technologically advanced and ruthlessly efficient global economy is far from assured. Even wealthy and well-educated countries like Germany and the United States are struggling to employ elements of their workforces and sustain a prosperous middle class. A lack of economic opportunity concerns young people worldwide as the pace of technological advancements decreases the demand for manufacturing labor even when economies are growing. In Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, for example, youth unemployment rates already exceed 30 percent, and youth populations there are expected to grow by another 20 percent or more over the coming 15 years, according to the U.N”.

He ends “To change the trajectory of youth living in challenging circumstances around the world, young people need economic opportunities, civic engagement, and justice as well as opportunities to positively change their communities. They need to develop their identities as individuals who have something to contribute, and as citizens. They need to come together to shape more positive futures for themselves and for others. And they are not just going to wait. Tapping the potential of massive youth populations worldwide could be the opportunity of the century. Or, it will unleash even more disorder, division, and violence. Or both. To echo Sengupta again, the world is now home to a tipping-point generation that will bend the arc of history. There’s little time left”.

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