Debunking Africa’s “Youth challenge”-narrative?

Playing around with data is kinda fun, until the data shows exactly the opposite of what you want to hear. Much of my work, including this blog, is predicated on the assumption that there are a whole lot of young people in this world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Now, and in the decades to come.

Indeed, the graph below (from Filmer and Fox 2014) is quite telling (each bar shows the projected number of 15- to 24-year-olds for one year at five-year intervals).

Estimated 15-24 year olds

But then I started playing around with some graphs. If I estimate the percentage of 15-24 year old’s I get a different picture. Starting from 2030, youth -defined as those between 15 and 29 year old here, actually goes down (the same trend applies if youth is defined as those between 15 and 24, as in the previous graph).

estimation 15-29 year olds africa

Oops! Does this mean the narrative of a staggering wave of youth in Africa, and¬† the potential problems due to a lack of jobs available, perhaps needs a bit more scrutiny? Adding projections for other parts of the world puts things a bit in perspective. The following graph confirms that after 2030 the relative youth population will decline in Africa. But…..will still be much higher than for other regions.

Projected youth pops across world regions

This will have implications for the total working population (potential labor force if there are jobs) for decades to come. Quite an impressive trend, almost the direct opposite of other world regions.

Working population

So, there you have it. The absolute number of youth will grow but its relative size decreases a bit over time. Still, what explains this decrease? Probably the most important factor are fertility rates; they have been going down and will continue to do so. As such, the relative (!) number of youth will eventually decline.

Declining fertility rates

So, the narrative largely stands, albeit with a bit more nuance.

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