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Demographic dividend and economic growth

25 November 2014

On 19 November 2014, the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) released its annual State of World Population Report. This year the report is titled, The Power of 1.8 billion: Adolescents, Youth and the Transformation of the Future.

Each year, this report provides invaluable information for organisations such as those working in population health.  It helps inform decision-making by governments, multilateral organisations, academics, policy makers and non-government organisations.

This year’s report outlines the statistics that continue to drive us to provide more and better services around the world. In an area such as sexual and reproductive health, the statistics remain challenging, particularly in relation to young people aged between 15 and 24.

Here are some of the statistics:

  • Adolescent females have low levels of access to contraception. Only 22 percent of females aged 15 to 24 years use modern contraception, compared to 60 percent of females over 30
  • An estimated 33 million women between the ages of 15 to 24 want but cannot access modern contraceptives[1]
  • Every day, 39,000 girls become child brides. That has amounted to 140 million in the last a decade. Child marriage, because it usually results in early pregnancy, is linked to deaths from complications of pregnancy and childbirth
  • The complications of pregnancy and childbirth are still the second leading killer of females 15 to 19.

With more young people alive today than ever before – 1.8 billion – the challenge, according to the UNFPA is to help young people reap the rewards of the ‘demographic dividend’ and be part of the ‘demographic transition’.

What does this mean? What is the demographic dividend? Essentially, it is the dividend that countries and the world reap when populations transition from high fertility and death rates to lower fertility and improved survival rates. With lower fertility and falling death rates, families have fewer dependents to care for. This results in proportionally more people in the workforce, including women. As resources are directed away from basic survival to greater economic development, with higher per-capita spending on health and education services, economic growth takes off. Capabilities and opportunities expand. This is the demographic dividend.

But how does this happen? How do countries and societies begin to move towards the demographic dividend? In the pre-transition period, investment is directed towards reducing high fertility and mortality rates, through childhood vaccination, primary health, sanitation and safe drinking water. During the early stages of transition, further efforts focus on empowering girls, specifically through access to secondary education and sexuality education, and access to sexual and reproductive health education, services and supplies, particularly contraception. In the later stages of transition, countries turn their focus to economic growth and expanded employment of young people. With greater health, education and opportunity, mortality and fertility rates drop, per capita income and standards of living rise and entire societies benefit.

The efforts of Marie Stopes International firmly sit in the early transition stage. Providing women and couples with their choice of family planning is the organisation's raison d’etre, including an increasing focus  on improving education and information to underserved youth. In Papua New Guinea, where 2.3 million of the total 7.5 million population (31 percent) are aged between 10 and 24, we target youth through a range of channels to provide information and education. We have initiated a digital storytelling project, whereby stories are developed and told by young people themselves using voiceovers, video and photographs. Given that storytelling is a core part of the Papua New Guinean culture, it is a powerful tool helping young people engage with their peers.

In China, where youth make up one sixth of the population, we have branded our clinic You&Me and focus our education and service delivery firmly on the underserved youth population. Here we deliver our services through peer education, enabling young people to educate each other about sexual and reproductive health. In a country where sexual and reproductive services are largely directed at married couples, this peer-to-peer education is vital.

In Myanmar, nearly 45 percent of the population is under the age of 25. In 2003, we established five ‘Kind Hands’ centres attached to our Marie Stopes clinics. These clinics address the specific needs of Myanmar’s youth and encourage young people to access high quality information and services without fear of judgement or stigma from service providers.

Across the Asia Pacific region, Marie Stopes International is working to deliver much needed information and services for young people. Through approaches such as peer education, youth-friendly centres, and outreach care to marginalised populations, we are reaching youth who, until now, have had limited if any access to sexual and reproductive health care. We see our work as vital in supporting women and couples to choose if, when and how many children to have. Not only do we believe this as a human right, we’ve seen the far-reaching benefits this provides to communities, nations and economies.

You can view the report at the UNFPA website.

[1] MacQuarrie, 2014


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