Youth bulge: opportunity or challenge? The role of demographic transition in the uprisings in Maghreb and the Middle East
By Fiorenzo Conte
In 1998 Bloom and Williamson recognized the fundamental role played by the demographic transition – defined as a change from high mortality and fertility rates to low fertility rates – in fostering the economic miracle in East Asia. In particular, they showed that as the working-age population grows at much faster rates that the dependent population the dependency ratio is reduced and the per capita productive capacity of the country increases. However they warned that this effect was not automatic. In their words:
“This effect was not inevitable; rather, it occurred because East Asian countries had social, economic, and political institutions and policies that allowed them to realize the growth potential created by the transition.”
Never more than today do we realize how that effect is not inevitable. As demographic transition unfolds in the countries of the Maghreb and the Middle East thus creating a youth bulge (a high share of the 15 to 29 years old in the total population) , we observe what can happen when those social, economic, and political institutions are not in place: a potential dividend turns into a curse. Young and educated people fail to find meaningful jobs and with it the capacity to become independent. As a consequence unemployment is increasingly perceived as tantamount to social death. Throughout the countries of the Maghreb the school-to-work transition of the youth bulge has fallen short and the level of unemployment of young people is reaching record levels.
The situation in the Middle East is really similar as young people were missed by the boom and hurt by the bust. And more interestingly young educated workers are likely to remain unemployed longer as compared to workers with basic or no education. (see here).
Challenge or opportunity? It depends. The demographic transition creates a youth bulge that represented an opportunity for East Asian countries and is now a challenge for Middle Eastern countries. What is certain is that from now on the role of the demographic transition in the shaping of the modern society will not be ignored anymore (for the joy of professor Dyson ).