SA population hits ‘sweet spot’

2012-08-15 12:56

South Africa’s population has hit a “sweet spot”, with a highly-favourable age distribution profile, according to the revised national development plan (NDP).

“There is a large youth and working-age population and proportionally fewer very old and very young,” it says.

While this holds great opportunity for the country, it also poses a serious threat if not managed properly.

“The challenge is to convert this into a demographic dividend. This will only be possible if the number of working-age individuals can be employed in productive activities, with a consequent rise in the level of average income per capita.

“If South Africa fails to do this, its large youth cohort could pose a serious threat to social, political and economic stability,” the NDP warns.

Young black people account for two-thirds of South Africa’s unemployed below the age of 35.

“Unemployment rates are highest in the 15- to 24-year-old group (46.6% in 2008), and second highest among 25 to 34-year-olds (26.2%). For black youth, the unemployment rate is 65%.

“If youths fail to get a job by 24, they are unlikely to ever get formal employment. Unresolved, this trend poses the single greatest risk to social stability. Young people are more likely to rebel if left with no alternative, but unemployment and poverty.”

The document notes that, generally, murders are committed by males between the ages of 16 and 30.

“In South Africa, this could translate into social disorder, widespread political unrest and increased crime. The degree to which the demographic dividend can be banked, and the risks avoided, depends on policy choices and how effectively they are implemented.”

The plan calls for the government to apply a “youth lens” to policies to expand opportunities, enhance capabilities and provide second chances.

It says this should include better food security and healthcare; better education, to meet the demands for higher skill levels; easier labour market entry; and labour mobility.

Although better health care and education were necessary to take advantage of a youthful population, they were not sufficient.

“Expanding opportunities for higher education without a concomitant increase in employment opportunities can be hazardous. High unemployment among educated youth can potentially lead to political upheaval and violence.

“Economic opportunities and jobs are therefore crucial. The demographic dividend can be realised only if gainful employment is created for the growing proportion of people of working age.”

On population, the NDP says there are significant differences in the profiles of SA’s population groups across the three main demographic drivers: fertility, mortality and migration.

“Due to historical inequalities, black South Africans generally live shorter lives and have a higher fertility rate than white South Africans, although the fertility rate among the black population is dropping sharply, particularly in urban areas.

“Migration, both within the country and across its borders, will feature in the country’s profile over the next 18 years. The movement of people from rural areas to towns and cities will increase, while migration, predominantly from other African countries, is likely to continue.”

It states that if the economy continues to expand at current rates, and fertility rates continue to decline, the population will grow from 50.6 million to 58.5 million by 2030.

“South Africa has arrived at the ‘sweet spot’ of demographic transition. The population has a proportionately high number of working-age people and a proportionately low number of young and old.

“This means that the dependency ratio – the percentage of those over 64 and under 15, relative to the working-age population – is at a level where there are enough people of working age to support the non-working population.”

The NDP says a caveat in South Africa’s case is that unemployment and HIV/Aids have produced many more dependants than would normally be the case.

“Although statistically South Africa is in a position to cash in on a demographic dividend, the challenges of joblessness and HIV/Aids are a burden on those who are working,” it states.

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