We need to worry about whether developing countries will be able to employ their young men

We need to worry about whether developing countries will be able to employ their young men
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In developed countries, there is lots of speculation surrounding the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” and its advancement of automation and artificial intelligence. While the jury is still out on whether or not there will be widespread job loss as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is clear that job creation is even more critical in regions that are underdeveloped. A key driver of American security in the future will be for youth in developing countries to find meaningful work.

U.S. development agencies can help especially if developing country governments are serious about making reforms and are serious about attracting jobs and investing in their countries’ people. U.S. development agencies can help support job growth and economic activity in developing countries, which stymies some of the root causes of forced migration, gangs and terrorism.


A jobless youth bulge in parts of the developing world is an American national security risk. The rich world is getting older, and while some developing countries like China are aging, the reality is that most of the developing world will continue to get younger in age and bigger in size over the next 30 years.

As defined in a World Bank blog, a youth bulge occurs when a country’s infant mortality rate decreases substantially, yet the country maintains a high fertility rate. The result is a society that is largely comprised of children and young adults who will soon enter the labor market.

The East Asia and Pacific region experienced a youth bulge in the 1960s. This youth bulge prompted a “demographic dividend,” an acceleration of economic growth due to a change in age structure of the population. For a demographic dividend to be possible in these regions, there must be: robust government institutions, good infrastructure, broad-based access to education, and lots of economic growth powered by lots of jobs.

In South Asia, a youth bulge is taking place right now. India will be the most populous country by 2050. For example, Pakistan’s population will jump from 197 million in 2017 to over 306 million inhabitants by 2050. Over 4 million people per year are reaching working age in Pakistan. UNDP’s National Human Development Report (NHDR) has concluded that Pakistan will need to create roughly 21 million more jobs by 2030 if labor force participation rates continue to gradually increase.

Over the next 20-30 years Africa will follow suit with a youth population boom of its own. There are over 190 million people in Nigeria, with 114 million under the age of 25. By 2050, the total population of Nigeria is forecast to rise to over 410 million, with 224 million people younger than 25. Nigeria will surpass the United States as the world’s 3rd most populous country. To accommodate the tremendous youth bulge that is beginning to take shape, over 2 million jobs will need to be created every year from now until 2030.

In Ethiopia, population is projected to increase from nearly 105 million in 2017, to over 190 million in 2050. 3.2 million Ethiopians will be entering the labor force every year by 2050. A similar number of productive jobs will need to be generated every year if Ethiopia is to remain on the path towards a demographic dividend.

As a country gets younger, both more potential and more challenges arise for its government. Entering modern society comes with new access to the global marketplace and culture, but also requires countries to confront increased income inequality, urbanization, environmental degradation, ethnic competition, and religious extremism. These issues are likely to be most intense during the midway point of the demographic transition when jobs become harder to find for the average young person.

In many cultures, young men must demonstrate that they can provide for a family before they can get married. If jobs are too scarce, what does this mean for the marriage prospects of jobless young men? Without job opportunities, youth are more likely to turn to gangs, militias, and terrorist organizations.

Other young people may migrate elsewhere. Most of the people attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border come from the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) because these countries lack economic opportunity, or are riddled with violence from crime and gangs.

Our national security is interdependent on the success and prosperity of developing countries. Without access to meaningful work, there will be more forced migration and terrorism that stems from developing countries. With stronger relationships with these countries, the U.S. will have strong country partners that can burden share. And more markets will be opened for American companies to trade their goods and services if these countries manage to leverage the potential of their young and productive societies.

Daniel Runde is a Senior Vice President and William A. Schreyer Chair in Global Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He previously worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Bank Group, and in investment banking, with experience in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.