The Demographic Dividend Potential in Eastern and Southern Africa

Understanding population dynamics and the urgency for investing in human capital


This working paper analyzes the implications of the demographic forces that are upending the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) region. Jaw-dropping population growth is causing a huge increase in the number of children and workers and overwhelming urban areas. As the working age population outpaces the number of children and elderly, the region can capitalize on the natural increase in economic output to improve well-being and accelerate poverty eradication. However, the lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills combined with under-developed bodies and brains indicates that the current workforce remains far from reaching its productive or innovative potential. Projections further show that the human capital base – which is a key determinant of the demographic dividend potential – will improve only marginally by 2050 just as favorable demographic conditions starts to reverse. Salvaging the remaining benefits hinges on the ability of governments to radically increase and improve the impact of investment in human capital sectors starting today.

The paper is intended to support UNICEF’s understanding of demographic trends for more effective programming and advocacy, especially in the area of public finance. It is accompanied by an Excel-based tool that allows users to select any country in Africa, any sub-region in Africa or Africa as a whole, which autogenerates the analyses presented in Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the paper. The data is drawn from UN DESA World Population Prospects: 2019 Revision (medium variant estimates) and UN DESA World Urbanization Prospects: 2018 Revision. The paper also serves as a template that can be customized to develop country-specific demographic narratives when used in conjunction with the tool. Annexes 2 and 3 of the paper additionally present demographic fast facts about ESA and Africa.

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