Alienated and unemployed youth are a concern everywhere. They pose a particular challenge in the developing world, where a demographic bulge equal to the great “baby boom” that occurred in the West at the end of World War II is growing. But the post-war era in the world’s most developed countries was one of unprecedented prosperity for the baby boom generation, which is now nearing retirement. Will the future be as promising for the developing world’s billion-plus young people between the ages of 12 and 24?
Throughout the developing world, governments urgently need to devise the right mix of investments and policies to encourage their young people to get an education, find work, stay healthy, form families, and exercise citizenship. The payoff is huge if they get it right: accelerated development as economies reap the benefits of a burgeoning working-age population and lower dependency ratios. In East Asia, this “demographic dividend” is believed to have generated more than a quarter of the region’s economic growth.
Developing countries have already invested heavily in children. Their young people are therefore better-educated and healthier than previous generations. More than 80% of children now attend primary school, up from 50% in 1970, and infant mortality has fallen from more than 10% to 6.5% over the same period. But now governments must go beyond investments in children and begin supporting the new generation of young people.
Indeed, even in countries with high primary-school completion rates, many young people do not attend secondary school. Young people account for half of all new HIV infections. And, in the Middle East and North Africa region, about a quarter of all young people are unemployed.