Three myths about youth employment in Africa and strategies to realize the demographic dividend

  • Written by  Louise Fox

Myth 1: Sub-Saharan Africa faces a unique demographic challenge

Most commentators on employment in Africa believe it faces an unprecedented youth employment challenge. Facts to back this up include that Africa is demographically the world’s youngest continent, and that by 2050, the estimated number of young people entering the labor force there will exceed that of the rest of the world combined.

Historical data tell a different story. It is true that Africa’s demographic and economic transformations are well behind the rest of the world—in part because most African countries started these processes later, with less developed economic, social, and political institutions. But Africans’ youth as a share of their working age population, at its maximum, was about half the size of the peak youth populations of East Asia, and 20 percent less than the South Asia peak (Figure 3.5). Actually, Africa’s youth bulge in the labor force peaked at the turn of this century, at 38 percent (only 4 percentage points higher than the Asian peaks), and is now on the decline. All other regions made it through this period of peak youth share of the labor force without facing a crisis. Africa should be able to as well. Opportunities for higher per capita growth should be on the horizon. Why are they not?

Myth 2: Africa’s youth bulge will create a demographic dividend

What is unique about Africa is how slowly the youth share of the working age population is expected to decline. While some are promising that this high youth share in the labor force will generate a demographic dividend for Africa that will help boost
economic growth, again the historical data tell a different story. Crucially, the size of the dividend depends on the rate of
demographic transition, and Africa’s transition is proceeding very slowly. The world’s 10 highest fertility countries are now in Africa, and these countries, which have not even started the transition, will keep the regional fertility averages and youth shares up at least until
mid-century. This will be a drag on economic growth.

In Kenya and Ghana, for example, fertility has been declining steadily as life expectancy increases (the essence of the demographic transition), and now the total expected births per woman has just moved below four. Even in these countries, though, the transition will not make the fast progress we saw in other regions owing in part to the stubbornly high share of young women having children before the age of 18 (8 percent in Kenya and 7 percent in Ghana, compared with only 4 percent in South Asia and 2 percent in East Asia). The regional average is an abominable 10 percent. When women marry and have children early, they tend to be less educated and have more children. Unmet demand for contraception among women who are married or in a union is also stubbornly high—30 percent in Ghana and 17 percent in Kenya, compared to just 4 percent in East Asia. To reduce fertility rates and realize any demographic dividend, Africa will have to aggressively expand contraceptive access, and support young women’s health and development through adulthood.

Myth 3: Skills training is the solution to Africa’s youth unemployment situation

Youth is widely recognized as an important skills-building period, with education being a crucial part. Africa’s education systems could do a lot better at building the foundational skills for the future labor force. However, educational and skill-building institutions do not create jobs. Firms and people do. Wage employment is created when new firms are created and existing firms expand production, finding new markets. This takes time, probably decades before most employment will be in modern firms in the case of African countries. Indeed, it could be argued that owing to better education policy than economic policy, young Africans are over-skilled for their economies, which is one reason why unemployment is highest among the most educated youth. Lacking opportunities to use their skills, they are frustrated and vocal.

The majority of African youth, of all skills levels, will have to seize opportunities and create their own living through self-employment, often with family members, on farms or in nonfarm sectors. A few people, typically 2-5 percent of the labor force, will be able to create a growth-oriented business and employ five or more people. This challenges the massive push toward youth entrepreneurship as the solution to the region’s unemployment challenge. Sadly, youth businesses—operating in an unfriendly economic environment, with limited capital, networks, and knowhow—tend to remain small, livelihood-sustaining ones, serving local markets. More training does not solve this problem, unfortunately.

The focus on Africa’s youth as an instrument of development, and the subsequent explosion of youth training and development programs, is misplaced. Education is needed for more than earning money—it enables all aspects of youth transition from dependence to independence. But education is not enough, as youth need jobs and an opportunity at decent work; so do their parents, and so will their children.

All the attention on the perceived deficiencies of youth, and the interventions targeting them, do not create jobs or increase opportunities in self-employment. Put simply, there is no silver bullet. Imagine instead if all the money being spent now on tiny youth projects with tiny results were spent instead on improved infrastructure, connectivity of information flows, trade facilitation, and better management in the public and private sector to facilitate formal sector job creation? Hard to do, but it is what youth really need.

Login to post comments
back to top

BEAMED BC-TV

Latest on Economy

Economy

Libya government partners with World Ban…

21 February, 2019 | Hits:15

The World Bank Group has announced a new strategy ...

Economy

IFAD, Egypt sign $81 million deal to pro…

21 February, 2019 | Hits:11

The International Fund for Agricultural Developmen...

Economy

Jack Ma’s US$10 Million Africa Netpreneu…

21 February, 2019 | Hits:9

The Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) will...

Economy

Lean Africa Consultants arranges infrast…

21 February, 2019 | Hits:15

Nairobi-based consulting firm Lean Africa Consulta...

Economy

South African Airways to separate into t…

21 February, 2019 | Hits:15

South Africa’s national carrier, South African Air...

Economy

Innova to open $40 million plant in Keny…

20 February, 2019 | Hits:16

Innova Eco Building System has entered into a join...

Economy

170 000 register to grow tobacco

20 February, 2019 | Hits:22

Tobacco grower registrations for the 2019 marketin...

Economy

FAO alerts on Desert Locust outbreak in …

20 February, 2019 | Hits:25

Heavy rains and cyclones have triggered a recent s...

Economy

UN raises alarm on drought crisis in SAD…

20 February, 2019 | Hits:26

Gaborone- The United Nations has warned of a loomi...

Economy

Angola has significant production of man…

20 February, 2019 | Hits:27

According to the official who was speaking at the ...

Economy

Wheat consumption rising in Africa

20 February, 2019 | Hits:21

Africa has been a fast-growing grain import market...

Economy

Azuri and FirstBank partner to bring sol…

19 February, 2019 | Hits:25

Azuri and First Bank of Nigeria Limited have annou...

Economy

Nigeria, India pledge deeper collaborati…

19 February, 2019 | Hits:26

Nigeria and the Republic of India have pledged to ...

Economy

South Africa: Africa Energy Indaba 2019 …

19 February, 2019 | Hits:21

The much-anticipated Africa Energy Indaba, held in...

Economy

African Leaders Support Dangote, Imoukhu…

19 February, 2019 | Hits:33

Jonathan Eze and Chris Uba Heads of Government acr...

Economy

Are East Africa's business laws scaring …

19 February, 2019 | Hits:19

East Africa’s regulatory environment and its inves...

Economy

Ethiopia and Djibouti to build gas pipel…

19 February, 2019 | Hits:104

Ethiopia has signed a deal to develop a gas pipeli...

Economy

Western Union introduces new payment opt…

18 February, 2019 | Hits:33

The Western Union Company, a player in cross-borde...

Economy

Mauritius most connected country in Sub …

18 February, 2019 | Hits:26

Global logistics company DHL has released the fift...

Economy

Agriculture task force takes aim at EU i…

18 February, 2019 | Hits:31

An expert group convened by the European Union to ...

By Category

Local News

User Menu

About Us

Follow Us