The concept of the “demographic dividend” pioneered by HSPH faculty member David Bloom and colleagues is featured in Time magazine’s “Ten Ideas That Will Change the World” published March 17, 2011.
Bloom, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Economics and Demography and Chair, Department of Global Health and Population, and colleagues identified more than a decade ago the “demographic dividend”, the economic boost that countries can receive when they shift from high rates of fertility and mortality — women having lots of children, many of whom die young — to low birthrates and longer life expectancies.
In a country where this demographic transition is taking place – thanks to improvements in health and other forces — the resulting temporarily large share of working-age people can, under the right circumstances, fuel a strong economic transition as well. Under the wrong circumstances, it can lead to civil upheaval.
“At the start of the demographic transition,” Time notes, “women still have lots of children, but many more of those children survive into adulthood and old age. Only after a while do birthrates decline. And between those two moments not only do populations increase, but the average age of people also drops. You get a youth bulge.”
A youth bulge can be a problem, if that growing generation of young people has limited education and economic opportunities, which in turn can breed unrest. But as Bloom’s research has suggested, many economies in East Asia in the 1980s and 1990s experienced significant growth that could be attributed to the demographic dividend, because educational, social, and government policies were in place to take advantage of the bulge generation’s numbers and potential economic productivity.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Bloom discussed the recently released census results from India, which show that the world’s second-most populous country added 181 million people over the last decade. India has the potential to enter a demographic transition over the next 15 years, Bloom told the Journal. But whether the country will be able to reap the benefits of a youth bulge depends on its policy choices, particularly in education and health, he said.
“India has to stay the course on investing in people. There’s really a lot at stake,” said Bloom in the Journal. “If it misses this opportunity it should still do those things in the future but there won’t be as big a payoff.”
“What’s Behind Asia’s Gold Rush?” (Harvard Public Health Review)
“Pigs, Pythons, and Economic Miracles” (Harvard Public Health Review)