The report also explores a pessimistic view, but I will not travel that path in this column. ‘In 2020, South Asia will have the youngest population in the world. The median age in India will be 28 years, compared to 37 in China and the USA, 49 in Japan, and 45 in Western Europe. The change in the age structure of the population will generate the demographic dividend, which, in turn, will create the potential for faster economic growth.
‘South Asia has shown a rising pattern of economic growth which appears to correspond to the increasing ratio of working-age to non-working-age people. In Afghanistan, Nepal, and Pakistan, there has not yet been a major increase in the working-age share, so no dividend was possible. Bangladesh is somewhat ahead of India in the transition. Sri Lanka has already experienced its demographic dividend and now faces an ageing population. ‘Looking ahead, with the exception of Sri Lanka, all countries in South Asia will experience a significantly faster increase in their working-age share between 2005 and 2050, than they did between 1960 and 2005. They stand to reap the benefits of a demographic dividend,’ says this World Bank report. Is this something to be concerned about? Especially since we are a service oriented country, and even our main exports like tea and garments are very labour intensive. What strategy should be employed by the businesses to sustain our markets? One industry that is being pushed at the moment is the tourism sector, and this for sure is a segment that needs young people working in it.
As a solution it is necessary that we have a plan towards retaining our youth and encouraging them to look to Sri Lanka’s future – and this message should be a part of our Sri Lankan brand story. At present, probably at all levels in society, people look to sending their children abroad to study or work; especially to the West because they see opportunity there. But nobody seems to be interpreting the real story of the West in comparison to Asia, especially the tottering finances of the US. Or for that matter comparing South Asia with European countries like Greece and Italy whose economies are falling. The potential for prosperity has now turned full circle and that’s here in the East, not in the West. Like the World Bank report says, it’s India that is waiting to emerge. The report says that ‘South Asia could have over one billion middle-class consumers by 2025, representing one-quarter of the global total. Sri Lanka, too, even with relatively modest growth, would have a big expansion in its middle class, which would amount to 30.3 per cent of its population. So a massive shift towards a middle-class society is in the making. ‘Growth, education, home ownership, formal-sector jobs, and better economic security are the cause and consequence of an expanding middle class. A more prosperous South Asia, with democratic governance and a demand for liberal economic policies, could be taking shape.’
Now is probably the best time to be telling our next generation that their future is in this region and not in the tottering West or a failing Europe. The time has come to tell our youth to look towards growing their roots here at home.
(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website.)
Source : Daily FT (http://www.ft.lk/2011/11/16/demographic-dividend/)