World Bank urges policies to harness African population boom

23 Oct 15

Africa’s rapid population growth could boost economic growth across the continent if it is effectively harnessed by governments, a report by the World Bank has found.

Today’s Africa’s Demographic Transition: Dividend or Disaster? report found that countries must put in place policies to reap the benefits of demographic change and enhance overall development.

Makhtar Diop, World Bank vice president for Africa, said population growth would not contribute to economic growth as expected unless there were the right investments in human capital.

“Entrants into the labour market must have the proper quality education and health care in order for Africa to fully realise its demographic dividend,” he said.

The report lays out an agenda for African countries that could increase the likelihood of capturing the potential social and economic benefits. The continent is anticipated to have 2.8bn inhabitants by 2060 ‒ amounting to more than a quarter of the expected global population.

Countries should invest in their health and education provisions, in particular with regards to women and girls, the Bank said. They should invest in their skills and provide them with greater market, social and decision-making power.

However, the report also highlighted that fertility rates were different across the continent, and provided recommendations based on different projections. Therefore while presenting broad recommendations the report encourages each country to customise its approach to its own challenges and opportunities.

In countries where fertility is falling and the work-age share is rising, the report suggests a focus on the creation of high-productivity employment and encouraging investments in health and education for the smaller group of young people.

Government policies to ensure people had sufficient savings for retirement would also help support an ageing population that will emerge as the demographic transition comes to an end, the report said.

More mature economies should also concentrate on generating domestic savings and supporting female labour-force participation outside of the home.

Finally, in fragile states, the report said emphasis should be placed on maintaining child health, access to health care and family planning to prepare the preconditions of a demographic dividend.

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