With three out of five people under the age of 25, and half of its population between 3 and 24 years old, Africa has the youngest population of any continent. In 2020, the population under the age of 25 was nearly 800 million, and 677 million were between 3 and 24 years old. Africa’s population is not only young but also growing fast. Compared to 2000, the 3- to 24-year-old population has increased by 58 per cent, and it is estimated to further increase by 22 per cent over the next decade.
Africa (+21 per cent) and Oceania (+9 per cent) are the only regions of the world where the population of young people (those under 25)14 is expected to grow over the next decade. According to the population projections of the United Nations, in 2030 Africa will be home to 28 per cent of the world’s population aged from 3 to 24, compared to 17 per cent in 2000 and 25 per cent in 2020.
Across the continent, Central Africa and Western Africa are recording the highest growth in their populations of young people. Between 2000 and 2020 the under-25 population increased by 82 per cent in Central Africa and by 68 per cent in Western Africa, compared to 18 per cent in Northern Africa. This population in Western and Central Africa is expected to increase by a quarter over the next decade.
The large population of young people in Africa, and its high growth rate, presents both a risk and an opportunity. The pressure that it places on education and training systems is enormous. African countries that already have some of the highest out of-school rates in the world, and some of the lowest learning outcomes, must also deal with growing demand for education.
Yet these young people can become an engine of economic growth and development, if they are given the skills and competencies they need. The transformative power of education is well established.15 The knowledge and skills provided by quality education helps to develop human capital, increasing not only the productivity and employability of individuals, but also improving the overall development of the countries in which they live. Equally critical is the effect of education in many areas of human development: from better health and women’s empowerment, to civic engagement and social cohesion. By accelerating investment in education and training to meet the sustained growth in the numbers of young people, African countries can take full advantage of a demographic dividend.
It is estimated that if investment in human capital in Africa remains unchanged, GDP per capita will increase by 39 per cent by 2050.16 If countries in Africa increase their investments in the health and education of their young people, this could trigger an 88 per cent increase in GDP per capita by 2050.