Nigeria and the ‘Demographic Dividend’, Challenges and Opportunities

Wedding Preparations, early 1970s, Lafia Road, Kaduna. Courtesy of Nigerian Nostalgia Project

Wedding Preparations, early 1970s, Lafia Road, Kaduna. Courtesy of Nigerian Nostalgia Project

The World’s population is aging – fast. By 2050, the number of people older than 65 will top 1.5 billion, according to the UN’s most recent population projections. In advanced economies such as Germany, South Korea or Japan, more than half the population will be older than 50. The notion that rapid aging is a strictly Western phenomenon, although commonly held, is wrong: by 2050, countries such as Mexico or Brazil will have aged faster than the US, with higher median ages, around the mid-40s. China is aging even faster and facing much the same problem as ‘old’ industrialised economies.

So where does Nigeria fit into this global pattern? Improvements in healthcare and life chances are still positively impacting the country’s life expectancy whilst fertility rates remain high due to traditional approaches to family size and family safety nets (old people suffer much less from poverty than say in Latin America). So Nigerians are aging as well, but slowly, and the ‘demographic transition’ is in full swing, with massive population increase (+176% from 2010 to 2050, overtaking the US).

So much for demographics, but what does this mean economically? As the title suggests, Nigeria is facing similar challenges and opportunities as other major economies in past historical periods. On the positive side, the proportion of people living off the income of people in work will decrease through to 2050, with the working age population increasing from 51.2% of the general population in 2013 to 56.9% in 2050. This ‘demographic dividend’ represents a massive advantage for Nigeria, an exception to the 21st century rule, and a reserve of ‘free’ growth for decades to come – if harnessed successfully.

Massive population growth, coupled with an increase in age cohorts entering the labour market presents chronic challenges for both public and private sectors. Providing skills, training, jobs, housing, transport etc for the many Nigerians yet to join us represents a massive logistical as well as financial challenge. If we are up to the task, forget Vision 2020 and think top 10.

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