Youth Perspectives

The world’s 10 youngest populations are all in Africa

A woman with a baby on her back looks on at an informal settlement. Image: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Joe Myers
Writer, Forum Agenda
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Niger is Africa’s, and the world’s, youngest country with a median age of just 14.8 - exactly half the global figure of 29.6 years.

And all ten of the world’s youngest countries are in Africa, as seen in this chart based on United Nations data.

The 10 youngest populations are all in Africa
Image: United Nations

As The Economist reports, the average birth rate for a woman in Niger is 7.6 children, compared to a global figure of 2.5. Coupled with a low life expectancy of 58 years, this has driven the average age of the population to just 14.8 years.

Uganda is the world’s second youngest country – over a year older than Niger. The top three is completed by Chad, where the median age is 16.

Are young populations a good or bad thing?

Africa’s youthful population is often touted as a major advantage for the continent. An increasing working-age population is a major opportunity for economic growth in Africa. The World Bank estimates that this demographic dividend could generate 11-15% GDP growth between 2011 and 2030.

 Africa will have the second largest population by 2050
Image: UN World Urbanization Prospects

If sub-Saharan Africa is able to take advantage, and provide adequate education and jobs, $500bn a year to could be added to its economies for 30 years. This is the equivalent of one-third of Africa’s GDP.

However, without jobs and economic opportunities, social stresses such as unemployment could lead to unrest. A 2014 UN report highlighted this risk. The authors write: “lack of meaningful work among young people is playing into frustration that has in some instances contributed to social unrest or unmanaged migration.”

As this map from the report makes clear, African nations are projected to face the greatest challenges from youthful populations.

Young in the world: changing proportions in 1980, 2015, 2050
Image: United Nations

The World Economic Forum on Africa will bring together regional business, political and civil leaders to discuss how the digital revolution can deliver shared prosperity across the nation. It is taking place in Kigali, Rwanda from 11 to 13 May.

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Related topics:
Youth PerspectivesGeographies in Depth
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