Keep an Eye on the Kids: Why Youth Bulges Remain a Concern for the Developing World
Written by Xavier Salvador, 2/27/17
Development seems to be working- a larger percentage of impoverished children are educated and are more likely to survive into their adult years. Thus, people moving through domestic education systems stay optimistic towards a middle-class lifestyle safeguarded by a well-paying job. But what if these dreams are unobtainable? Not because of an individual’s lack of drive, but sheer carrying capacity of jobs in the face of growing populations?
Development seems to be working- a larger percentage of impoverished children are educated and are more likely to survive into their adult years. Thus, people moving through domestic education systems stay optimistic towards a middle-class lifestyle safeguarded by a well-paying job. But what if these dreams are unobtainable? Not because of an individual’s lack of drive, but sheer carrying capacity of jobs in the face of growing populations? A formerly dependent population will inevitably move into the job market, but must compete fervently against their cohort peers. National governments must find a way to harness this “dividend” of youth and integrate them into the labor market. However, developing nations increasingly cannot supply the staggering demand. The revolutionary improvements to healthcare are inordinately causing economic and demographic issues for the developing world. India faces this youth bulge dilemma today.
By 2020, with a median age of 29 and nearly two-thirds of the entire population under the age of 25, India will posses the youngest population in the world. To compare, China’s median age is 37. India’s young working-age could potentially turn the country into the largest consumer market and labor force in the world. This population sprung out of India’s prominent economic liberalization from the early 1990s to the 2000s, when it was slightly more affordable to raise larger families. During this period, India’s economy was flooded with Western corporations that brought industrialization to cities. Especially in Northern India, as more youth move from farmlands to urban cities, the cohort becomes more exposed to how western and Indian elite lead their lives. At this population growth rate, India must create an estimate of 12 million jobs, each year. If not, young people will meander unemployed, despite obtaining a secondary degree. What must be acknowledged it that this demographic upswing provides the potential for social unrest and political dissent. This will occur even if a majority of the population boasts high education rates. Education and materialism fuel ambition for improved lifestyles.
For these driven, Indian youth, the national government is failing to uphold the social contract of upward mobility. Unless the government is willing and able to integrate the surplus of educated youth into the public sector, social tensions and frustration may develop into political unrest. The more educated a population, the more engaged citizens are with the actions of the government leadership.
India’s northern regions are currently facing the consequences of the inadequate handling of the dividend. In 2016, the state of Haryana experienced fierce backlash from the large amounts of resentful and unemployed youth. These riots also reflect broader social dilemmas, as the protests were led by Jat caste members who demand greater government representation and increases in their job quotas. The Jat population, which ranges around 80 million across northern India, have recently been financially impacted by drought and lack of opportunity. Although the Jat are an upper caste, many families are experiencing downward mobility as the number of urban jobs in Haryana remains low. In 2014, the Indian legislation nearly rebranded them as a lower caste, which would have granted them a greater quota for government jobs. However, the ruling was put down by the Indian Supreme court.These quarrels regarding social and religious stigmas will only spread if the national government proceeds to focus on investing in the wealthier segments of the population, rather than helping the citizens who may be most productive for India’s continued industrial growth. This dividend will not last forever.
How can India wield the youth dividend for its economic and social benefit? The answer remains unclear. Unemployment is not the only determinant of civil unrest, as increasing food prices, corruption, and access to public goods all play supporting roles. Some scholars believe that greater educational opportunities can quell citizen resentment. However, India and many other developing nations are currently realizing that an educated, unemployed cohort can cause significant trouble for local governments. A product of this bulge is witnessed by India’s growing diaspora of 16 million people abroad. But what development and foreign assistance initially produced for healthcare and education structures, may backfire. National governments must do more to integrate workers into their domestic markets