Population challenge: As a demographer, I’m surprised to hear a variety of experts describe Pakistan’s rapid rate of population increase, as well as its young demographics, as an advantage that may be a valuable instrument in the country’s development.
Supporters of this viewpoint contend that Pakistan has a big population of working-age people, but some nations are experiencing labor shortages and want extra workers. As a result, the country’s young age structure might represent a possible “demographic dividend.” Their main argument is that Pakistan has a long history of sending its employees abroad to produce huge financial remittances, which are now valued at $29.4 billion, or roughly 7.2 percent of the country’s GDP.
They also claim that the pool of Pakistani abroad migrants may be enlarged beyond the Gulf area to include Malaysia, Japan, and other nations. With aging populations in Western industrialized nations, the need for people in the labor force is only going to grow, and Pakistan might meet that demand by delivering employees in a variety of fields such as health care, information technology, and others.
Example of South Korea
While the preceding argument may have some truth, it also contains various fallacies that must be recognized. In Pakistan, the example of South Korea has been used to demonstrate the prospect of benefiting from the ‘demographic dividend.’ The advantages of the ‘demographic dividend’ were realized under certain circumstances in nations like South Korea.
When fertility began to decline in the 1950s as a result of an aggressive family planning program, the population had already attained a high level of literacy and education for both men and women, the economy was growing, and new industrial businesses were being founded.
In the 1970s, practically all women and almost all men in South Korea were literate. Approximately 95% of boys and girls aged 10 to 14 were enrolled in school. Women’s labor force participation was quite high, with 61 percent of rural women and 31 percent of urban women working. In view of the above, South Korea’s benefit from its young age structure, which contributed to a productive labor force while easing the burden of a dependent population due to decreased fertility, was a success story.
Fertility rate dropping
In Pakistan, fertility began to drop in the 1990s, although it was a gradual decline. By 2017-18, each woman was still giving birth to roughly 3.6 children, compared to just about 2.4 children in the late 1970s. As a result, Pakistan’s fertility shift has been more slower than South Korea’s.
In Pakistan, women have a literacy rate of 51.8 percent while males have a literacy rate of 72.5 percent. In secondary school, only approximately 40% of male pupils and 34% of female youngsters are enrolled. Women’s involvement in the labor force has been relatively stable at about 20%. Furthermore, the rate of economic growth has been slowed on many occasions, with the current rate projected to be 3.9 percent.
In the foregoing context, where the majority of the population is illiterate or has poor levels of education and skills, and when 80 percent of women do not work, seeing Pakistan’s young age structure as an asset, or dividend, is both risky and short-sighted.
Since the previous several decades, the aforesaid flaws have been reflected in the quality of migrants heading abroad. According to official statistics and a growing body of research, at least half of all temporary migrants from Pakistan are still working as unskilled or semi-skilled laborers in other countries.
Women make up a small percentage of these migrants. Migrant workers with lesser skills might send back smaller remittances than those with higher skills. In addition, demand for low-skilled workers is dwindling in numerous host nations, raising the possibility that the assumption regarding their future absorption in international markets is inaccurate. With the economic recession that many destination nations are experiencing as a consequence of the Covid-19 outbreak, demand for such labor is anticipated to fall even more.
In light of the foregoing, it is important to remember that Pakistan will not be able to benefit from the ‘demographic dividend’ unless it accelerates its fertility decline, raises the educational and skill level of its workforce, allows women to work productively, and maintains a high rate of economic growth. In the absence of the above, hoping to benefit from a young age structure would be wishful thinking based on erroneous perceptions of the idea.
Although population growth patterns are not destiny, they are critical to the future of developing nations that are currently fighting to relieve hunger, eradicate extreme poverty, manage water shortages, reduce environmental degradation, and avoid war.
In the same way that developing nations must prepare for the consequences of climate change, they must also identify and address the issues that come with a fast expanding population.
The paper concludes that rapid population expansion is a “challenge multiplier.” These nations’ progress in eradicating hunger, decreasing extreme poverty, limiting environmental damage, and avoiding political instability will be delayed unless their fertility rates decline quicker than they are today. Things might become a lot worse for the nations that are most vulnerable and have the least resilience.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The good news is that programs like family planning, which are essential to lessen demographic risk, have various advantages and are reasonably affordable. They are, nonetheless, urgent. There is a great deal of demand, and any delays will be expensive.