The state of youth: A demographic perspective

Research Report. Centre for Poverty Employment and Growth, Human Sciences Research Council

The share of youth population in South Africa has grown substantially – from 17.9% in 1960 to 20.5% in 2009. This trend is likely to continue into the next decade, with a significant reversal expected from about 2020s. The size and trend in the youth population have many implications for socioeconomic development. From a policy standpoint, having a relatively large number of people in the active working ages can be a demographic asset. But the potential economic benefit of the young population can only be realised if they are healthy, well-educated, have a good economic environment, and live in a stable and predictable political environment. This paper draws attention to salient demographic features of youth development in South Africa. Relatively large cohorts of people were born in a period when the total fertility rate was fairly high. As these cohorts grow into each age group, the structure of the national population pyramid is significantly affected. The issue of interest here is the momentum for future increases in population that is built into the current age structure. This feature has not been seriously studied in its own right partly because of a research culture dominated by concerns about high levels of fertility and rapid population growth in Africa.