Favorable age demographics allow countries to grow faster. When a nation has relatively more people of working age, more people are earning, spending, and contributing taxes. It can invest in social services and infrastructure, which in turn enables further growth.
Economists refer to this as a “demographic dividend,” and it normally occurs when women in poorer countries start having fewer children, thus lowering fertility rates. East Asia’s “economic miracle” is partly explained by demographics. For example, South Korea saw its fertility rate drop from 5.4 children per woman to 2.9 between 1950 and 1975, contributing to its rapid rise thereafter.
The charts here, from the the United Nations Population Fund, show how the world’s demographics are changing and which countries could enjoy favorable working-age ratios in the future. Africa, in particular, is entering a period of demographic opportunity. By the end of the century, it is expected to have four times as many working age people as it does today. For example, Nigeria currently has nine dependents for every 10 workers. It’s eventually expected to have only five for every 10. (Blues and greens mean lower numbers of non-workers to workers, yellows mean higher ratios).
The UNPF says capturing the demographic dividend is not a sure thing, however. “The size of that dividend depends critically on investment in human capital and the strengthening of human capabilities,” it said in its 2014 report. That includes education and training, health care, strengthening human rights and sexual equality protections, and, of course, improving job prospects.
“National ministries of finance, development banks, bilateral and multilateral development agencies and even businesses should consider the experiences of countries that have reaped the demographic dividend, and commit to what might be one of the smartest–and rightest–investments around: youth,” it says.