Published:  01:14 AM, 16 May 2019

Challenges and opportunities of demographic dividend

Challenges and opportunities of demographic dividend

At this juncture, Bangladesh, a developing country, is on the way of becoming a middle income country. In Bangladesh, this silent transformation is already being felt in manufacturing and some other business sectors associated with digitalization and technical education.

These elements have led many involved with creating skill to direct their attention to the need for technical education, pertaining to marketing and management of scant financial sources but also to fostering the principle of innovation within university students. This would help to prepare students to be self-employed, particularly in areas that are associated with electrical or computer engineering and digital technology.

This change would also mean the creation of an adequate pool of technical resources that would enable us to keep pace with the global market and also be able to contribute towards the development of the country. While Bangladesh has been able to move forward in the RMG sector because of price competitiveness, we have not been able to break the glass ceiling of fashion design due to absence of our own international brands and up-market quality.

Attention has also been drawn to working conditions in RMG factories where our apparel workers sometimes suffer from lack of compliance with regard to workplace safety and the number of hours they have to work per week as compared to Cambodia and India.

The afterword of 2050, as population projection depicts, with higher life expectancy, Bangladesh will face huge dependent aged people who will require feed them without sales return under Social Safety-net program and hence it is the high time to step up its economic growth.

The paper recommends equitable quality education for all linking with job market needs and demands as well as full and productive employment for all through the creation of new job opportunities. Over the last few decades, the decline in fertility and mortality rates in Bangladesh and subsequent increase in number of working-age population (15-59) relative to the dependents (0-14 and 60+) offer the country an opportunity of accelerated economic growth. Economists optimistically call this potential for accelerated economic growth the "demographic dividend".

Until the early 2040s, Bangladesh is expected to gain an average 1 percent additional yearly GDP just because of this growing working age share-yet realizing that potential has been one of its major challenges. However, demographic dividend is not a given. Shifts in age structure of a country's population do not automatically guarantee growth. Rather, it requires investment in a number of areas and a set of policy commitments to systematically manage its working-age population for productive economic output. Based on data from the Labor Force Survey 2016-17 published by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics in 2018.

More gaps have been chalked up where the country should focus on to gain a boost in economic productivity making the most of the window of opportunity. Nevertheless, at this juncture, one needs to remember that Bangladesh, a country with about 170 million, has an edge over other countries. It is our demographic dividend. It is this factor that could help us to achieve technological and sociological transformations through our more than 100 million citizens, under the age of 30.

The world, according to sociologists, is passing through a silent revolution. Automation, development of artificial intelligence, advances in computer power and technology are driving this change. Those with hard skills are also able to start their own businesses as micro-entrepreneurs in the domain of e-commerce and innovation that goes beyond the realm of linear and one-dimensional patterns.

The paper aimed to depict the changing trend of population of Bangladesh and projected future growth with special focus on working-age structure indicating initiatives needed to be taken right now. Relevant studies and papers were gathered through purposive sampling and analyzed using Qualitative Interpretive Meta-Synthesis (QIMS). The overall result of the contextual analysis shows that Bangladesh has faced demographic transition period successfully and the one time opportunity get started to put on economic growth as the median age structure are increasing sharply day by day in comparison to the post-independence period with a fall of fertility rate.

It is not just the labor force participation rate that is alarming; the higher unemployment rate is also largely a consequence of unemploy ment among youth aged 15-29. Whereas total unemployment is 4.2 percent, the rate is 10.6 percent among the youth. Universities should take the lead role to address this. More involvement of universities with subject related organizations through internships and partnerships will not only benefit the organizations and contribute to the country's economic output; it will also help the youth equip themselves with skills needed for the fast-changing job market.

Fourthly, high unemployment rate is also associated with fewer employment options in rural areas. What is surprising is that 1.8 million unemployed persons live in rural areas compared to 866,000 living in urban areas. In order to seize the opportunity of demographic dividend, the government should focus more on job creation in rural areas.

Finally, encashing the demographic dividend is irrevocably linked with human resource development. Good health, quality education and skilled manpower are important prerequisites for such desired growth. Surprisingly, 25.3 percent of men are out of the labor force because of illness or injury. Promotion of health, especially maternal and child health is also linked with greater productivity. The proportion of allocation for the health sector as part of the total budget needs to be increased.

Moreover, among those who are in employment, only 5 percent and 6 percent have completed tertiary and higher secondary levels of education respectively, while 26 percent are primary graduates. This indicates a serious gap in education and skills even among the employed section, automatically leading to lower wages and income. The report also shows that around 30 percent of the youth are not in education, employment or training. The government should invest more in education and skill development to build human capital.

It can adopt models of skill development for enhancing skills of those out of education. To sum up, Bangladesh can realize the full potential of its demographic window of opportunity with decisive policies to expand labor markets though ensuring participation of the young working-age cohort in the labor force, investing in youth and skill development, enhancing health services, and generating mass employment, particularly rural and formal sector employment.

Moreover, if we cannot reduce the gender gaps in education, employment, skills and in the labor markets, we stand to miss out on the opportunity of reaping the benefits of our demography. No discussion on enhancing the latent potential of our demographic dividend would be complete without reference to the important task of learning foreign languages. This is an important key for opening up new dimensions.

We have nearly 8.7 million expatriate workers from Bangladesh working in several nations throughout the world. Both our government as well as the private sector needs to address the issue of their security. The demographic dividend is not automatic. It is achieved only if the correct human resource policies are pursued. The dividend appears as an addition to the growth that could be expected by capital investment in infrastructure, improved technology, manufacturing plant, or by trade policy, market liberalization etc.

If the benefits of the first demographic dividend are attained, per capita income will rise and with more persons economically active, the savings rate will also increase and finally the GDP of the country will be double digit in a shortest possible time.  

Rayhan Ahmed Topader is a writer and columnist. He can be reached at:

-Rayhan Ahmed Topader

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