I argued in an earlier post that much of Pakistan’s future direction will hinge on events unfolding this year. The first of these are the national elections scheduled for May 11, which could be decided by a large number of first-time voters. These voters are the product of one of the world’s largest youth bulges and their electoral impact is a critical indicator to watch for.
India tends to receive most of the attention when it comes to mind-boggling demographic trends, though its western neighbor is no laggard either. True, India is projected to overtake China as the world’s most populous country in about a decade or so. But by some estimates, Pakistan eclipsed Brazil to move into the fifth position last year and could pass over Indonesia to take the fourth spot by 2030. Yes, India will add the equivalent of Europe’s labor force over the next 15 years and end up supplying a full quarter of the global workforce. But Pakistan’s population nearly doubled over the past two decades and its working-age population is growing at a faster clip than the overall population. Pakistan also is a younger country, with a median age of 22 versus 26 in India. And according to Forbes magazine, Karachi is the world’s fastest-growing megacity, with its population expanding 80 percent in 2000-2010. Such dramatic growth helps to explain the city’s steady slide into chaos (see here and here).
In theory, the youth bulges in India and Pakistan are good things, since a growing proportion of workers to non-workers in a society – what is often termed the “demographic dividend” – helps propel capital accumulation and economic growth. Youth bulges played an important role in powering the East Asian economic miracle from 1965-1990. But it is unclear whether this pattern will be replicated in South Asia, since India and Pakistan have difficulty in generating productive employment for new entrants to their labor forces. Continue reading