Shannon has written before on this blog about the youth bulge and how the continent can act to harness this demographic surge and turn it into a benefit. But it sometimes pays to be reminded just how young the population in Africa really is. The forecasts for 2020 according to the United Nations’ World Population Prospects 2019 show that there will only be one non-African country in the top 20 youngest countries in the world. This anomaly is Afghanistan, but the rest are from Africa.
According to these forecasts, the youngest country is set to be Niger: its median age will be just 15.2 years old. That is, half of the entire population of the country is younger than 15.2 years old! (By way of contrast, the median age of the USA is 38.1 years.) Niger also has the world’s highest fertility rate with each woman in the West African country having an average of 7.2 children over the course of her lifetime. It is not surprising that the UN predicts that the population of Niger (21.5 million people) will triple by 2050. The next two youngest countries are the neighbours to either side of Niger: Mali and Chad. These countries will have median ages of 16.3 and 16.6 years respectively. The remaining seven countries in the top ten are Somalia, Uganda, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Mozambique and Zambia. The oldest nation in the top 10 (Zambia) will have a median age of only 17.6 years.
A young population is a potential benefit: economic development in many of these countries could soar if the young are educated and healthcare is adequate and there is sufficient investment and jobs that the young are able to become productive members of the economy. The most recent Gates Foundation report stated that:
“Today's booming youth populations can be good news for the economy; if young people are healthy, educated and productive, there are more people to do the kind of innovative work that stimulates rapid growth.”
However, UNICEF warns that if these preconditions aren’t met, there is the risk of high unemployment, poverty and low productivity across the continent carrying risks of further threat to stability and security.
Marcus Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet's blog on population issues.