A new age

In a few decades Africa will have more young people than any other continent

August 13, 2014
August 13, 2014

China is home to a fifth of the world’s population, a fact its government frequently mentions for geopolitical gain. Nearly every news report on India’s recent elections mentioned that it is the “world’s largest democracy.” By contrast, the number of Africans is about a quarter that of Asians.

But in half a century, Africa will be home to more young people than anywhere else. A new report from UNICEF, the United Nation’s agency aimed at helping the world’s children, attempts to quantify this demographic shift. While UNICEF only provides youth population projections through to 2050, it adds in the report that “Africa will take over as the continent with the most children in 2067.” Today, 55% of the world’s children under the age of 5 live in Asia. That number will fall to 37% by 2050.

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If 5 seems like too young an age to judge demographics by, the projections for populations under 18 look basically identical.

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These changes are happening mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, while population growth in North Africa is leveling off. In many ways this is just a continuation of the already-increasing population trends: More women of reproductive age causes population growth.

India and China both have growing populations, but they face deep-seated demographic problems that mean the number of young people is set to fall, portending possible labor shortages and the need to support an aging population. The CIA World Factbook says there are 106 Chinese men for every 100 women, well above the world average of 101. The number is even higher in India, at 108. There is talk across China of “leftover women” and even “leftover men.”

Another reason Asia’s youth population will fall is fertility rates. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have some of the lowest fertility rates the world has ever seen. China’s isn’t much higher. By contrast, “[c]ontinued high rates of fertility and an increasing number of women of reproductive age are the driving force behind Africa’s surge in births and children,” the UNICEF report notes.

Time will tell whether an influx of young Africans brings opportunity or crisis. Hope for African growth spurred $33 billion in American investment there at a summit held in Washington, DC., last week. At the same time, the continent’s coming population explosion has the less optimistic fearing dystopian food shortages (paywall).

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