Population Trends and Demography

Impact the Shape of Things to Come: Invest in Women and Youth

PAI’s recent study, The Shape of Things to Come: Why Age
Structure Matters to a Safer, More Equitable World
, was a hot topic in
Washington last week when it drew a panel of experts to
the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
The experts, including a Member of Congress and the heads of the Henry
Stimson Center and the Population Reference Bureau, agreed: Demography can often
be a powerful indicator for international development.

 

The Shape of Things to
Come
offers compelling evidence that a country’s age structure—the size of
specific age groups relative to the population as a whole—has a significant
impact on its stability, governance and economic development.  While young people are a tremendous
asset for any society, countries with very young or youthful age structures have
historically faced the greatest challenges in terms of development and
stability.  Currently about sixty
countries
have a “very young” age structure, including Afghanistan,
Ethiopia, Haiti, and nearly all of sub-Saharan
Africa.  The findings
of PAI’s report reaffirm that investments in education, health care and economic
opportunities for young people in these countries is critical to these nations’
development.

 

Congressman Russ Carnahan (D-MO), a member of the House
Foreign Affairs Committee who spoke at the Wilson Center event, described The Shape of Things to Come as a
valuable resource for policymakers because it provides compelling information on
how age structure and population dynamics affect development.  Congressman Carnahan urged other
policymakers to use the findings of PAI’s study to highlight approaches through
which developing countries with very young age structures can meet the
challenges they face and help their citizens live longer and healthier
lives.

 

Today, a critical opportunity to make a difference in the
lives of millions of women and young people around the world exists in the
annual foreign assistance (State-Foreign Operations Appropriations) bill pending
before Congress and President Bush. 
As passed by Congress, this bill overturns the Global Gag Rule and
expands access to contraceptives in poor nations.  Such a policy shift would greatly
benefit the hundreds of millions of women in developing countries who lack
access to contraceptives and other basic reproductive health care.
Unfortunately, President Bush has threatened to veto the entire foreign
assistance bill over the life-saving, anti-Global Gag Rule provisions

 

As The Shape of Things
to Come
makes clear, age structure matters to development. And the good news
is that demography is not destiny. More balanced age structures can be achieved
through popular and effective policies backed by sufficient funding and
political commitment. Most importantly, these investments in the health,
education and well-being of women and young people are time-tested,
cost-effective, and grounded in human rigpopact—and they can truly impact the
shape of things to come around the world.

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