Development Dialogue: Does Demographic Change Pay a Dividend for Health and Nutrition?: Challenge Profile

Does demographic change pay a dividend for health and nutrition?

Changes in a country’s demography – its population age structure or gender balance, for example – can have significant impact on the economy, demand for social services and policy environment.  

Some countries have been able to harness the so-called “demographic dividend” – a term that describes the potential favorable interplay between changes in countries’ population age structure resulting from their demographic transition and economic growth. Decreases in fertility and mortality, and timely adoption of responsive socioeconomic policies, help a nation achieve the demographic dividend. 

In East Asia, rapid mortality and fertility transitions led to a high peak in working-age populations compared to dependent ones. This produced a “first demographic dividend” in the form of higher economic growth due to increased labor supply. In turn, a  “second demographic dividend” arose from an increase in savings and resources for investment. Far-sighted education, health, labor, and economic policies allowed most East Asian countries to harness both dividends.  

In contrast, the projected decline in fertility in sub-Saharan Africa implies that the region’s working-age population will not peak until 2080. Moreover, the ratio of working-age population per dependent at its peak will be significantly smaller than what was observed in East Asia. So, projected economic gains from the sub-Saharan demographic transition are small and slow in coming. 

This two-week conversation will address how demographic change can have a positive impact on health and nutrition outcomes. What kinds of socioeconomic policies should be put in place today to help countries take advantage of population changes as they go through their demographic transition?