Youth in the Middle East and North Africa: demographic opportunity or challenge?
The number of youth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is projected to peak at 100 million by 2035 and to decline slowly thereafter. This policy brief gives an overview of demographic trends among youth and the implications of these trends for human and economic development in the MENA region.
The paper firstly warns that MENA’s unemployment rate is the highest among world’s regions, and particularly the largest gender gaps in unemployment rates among youth are found in MENA.
The paper demonstrates that:
- the youth bulge poses opportunities as well as challenges for development
- the demographic opportunity can be reaped when today’s youth reach their prime working ages
- to reap the benefits, MENA countries need to adapt their economic, social, and political institutions to the changes brought by the unprecedented numbers of young people as they move into adulthood
- moreover, educational systems need to accommodate the rapidly growing student population, and labour markets need to expand to provide additional jobs
- furthermore, housing markets must meet the growing housing demand of couples attempting to marry, and health systems must adapt to the needs of young people
Likewise, the authors quote that MENA countries must adopt new development policies that realign their economies in three important ways:
- re-inventing the private sector
- integrating with the world economy
- managing oil resources better
In addition, the report emphasises that MENA countries must redefine their “social contracts”— implicit agreements between governments and citizens.
The authors conclude that none can succeed in strengthening human capacity among youth without fundamental reforms and greater engagement of civil society. Nevertheless, every MENA government needs to map its pathway to reform in ways that are tailored to its country-specific conditions and desired outcomes.