In a rapidly ageing world, sub-Saharan Africa stands out for its youth. Harnessing the potential of the region’s children and adolescents through expanded opportunities for health and education, could unlock a demographic dividend. However, demography also creates risks for Africa – and for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Over the next 15 years, Africa will account for a fast-rising share of the world’s under-five population, adolescents, and new entrants to the work force. This has far-reaching implications for the age profile of global poverty. On current trends, we estimate that by 2030 one-in-five African children will be living below the $1.90 poverty threshold – and that these children could account for over 40% of world poverty.
In Child poverty, inequality and demography we examine the implications of demographic trends in Africa for the changing age profile of world poverty – and for the region's development prospects. Investing in opportunities for Africa’s children could yield major returns for economic growth and human development. Education is critical. Delivering decent quality learning for all is a proven catalyst for development. We also highlight the expansion of reproductive health care, promotion of gender equity, measures to reduce early marriage, and cash transfers targeting child poverty as critical ingredients for change. African governments and the wider international community could be doing far more in these areas.
With the right mix of policies in place, Africa could accelerate the pace of demographic transition – and reap a dividend from a rising generation of youth. There are valuable lessons to be drawn from other regions and some countries in Africa itself. But governments need to wake up to the demographic opportunity as a matter of urgency.