A look at Asia's changing youth population

A look at Asia's changing youth population
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  1  Asia–Pacific Population &  Policy POPULATION POLICY &    A S I A  P A C I F I C POPULATION POLICY & PROGRAM ON POPULATION January 1999Number 48 A look at Asia’s changing youthpopulation O ver the past 50 years, everycountry in Asia has experi-enced a population boom. Asia-Pacific Population&Policy summarizesresearch on populationand reproductive health for policymakers and others concerned withthe Asia-Pacific region. In November 1998, Asia-PacificPopulation&Policy received the Global Award for Media Excellence from The Population Institute.This publication was made possible through support  from the David and LucillePackard Foundation.Theopinions expressed donot necessarily reflect theviews of the East-West Center or of its supporters. Writers: Peter Xenos Midea KabamalanSidney B. Westley Series Editor: Sidney B. Westley Editorial Committee:  Minja Kim ChoePhilip Estermann Andrew Kantner  Robert D. Retherford  ISSN 0891-6683Correspondence address:  East-West Center Program on Population1601 East-West Road  Honolulu, HI 96848-1601, USATelephone: (808) 944-7482Fax: (808) 944-7490 E-mail: poppubs@ewc.hawaii.edu Internet site: www.ewc.hawaii.edu Across the region, rapid populationgrowth was fueled by high fertilitycombined with a dramatic reduction ininfant and child mortality. In somecountries, population numbers began togrow right after World War II, while inothers, growth was delayed by varyingperiods of political instability.With the widespread acceptance of family planning, nearly every Asiancountry has also experienced a drop inbirth rates. Again, the timing has varied.In rough chronological order, fertilitybegan to decline in Japan and Singaporein the 1950s, followed in the 1960s byHong Kong, South Korea, Sri Lanka, thePhilippines, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia,Thailand, and China and in the 1970sby Indonesia, India, and Myanmar. InBangladesh, fertility was declining bythe 1980s, and in Pakistan by the early1990s. Everywhere, the decline in fertilityappears to be a lasting feature.A reduction in infant and childmortality followed by a drop in fertilityproduces, about 20 years later, a "youthbulge." This is defined as a significantincrease in the absolute number of ado-lescents and young adults as well as arise in the proportion of this age groupin the population as a whole. In eachcountry, the timing and magnitude of population growth and the ensuingfertility decline have been crucialfactors governing the size and durationof the youth bulge. Thus the youth bulgeis much larger in some countries than inothers. Some national populations nolonger have a youth bulge, and in othersthe youth bulge has not yet appeared.The youth bulge is of special concernto policymakers. Education, health, andemployment programs need to expandto meet the needs of a growing youthpopulation. Policymakers must keep inmind, however, that the excess numberof young people may be short-lived.Another policy concern stems fromthe fact that adolescents and youngadults are in their prime reproductiveyears. Unusually large numbers in thisage group will lead to unusually largenumbers of births, even when fertilityrates are low. The potential for popula-tion growth resulting from this tempo-rary imbalance in the age structure is aphenomenon that demographers call“population momentum.”As John Bongaarts and Judith Bruce(1998) describe it, “…the largest genera-tion of adolescents in history will soonenter the childbearing years. Even if eachof these…[couples] has only two children,they will produce more than enoughbirths to maintain population growth overthe next few decades.” Thus, althoughfertility has declined throughout Asia,because of population momentum na-tional populations are expected to growwell into the next century.This issue of   Asia-Pacific Population &  Policy highlights findings from arecent East-West Center study on demo-graphic and social changes among youngpeople in Asia. The project, supported  2  Asia–Pacific Population &  Policy by the U.S. Agency for InternationalDevelopment through The PopulationCouncil, covered 17 countries in East,Southeast, and South Asia. It broughttogether information on the changingnumbers of young people—age 15–24—and on trends in marriage, school enroll-ment, and workforce participation amongyouth populations in the region. HOW IMPORTANT IS THEYOUTH BULGE? Columns 3 and 4 of Table 1 show thenumber of adolescents and young adultsand the proportion of this age group inthe populations of 10 Asian nations. Theanalysis is based on United Nationspopulation estimates.Following a general pattern, theyouth share of total population risesfrom 16–18 percent to somewhere in therange of 20 percent about 20 years afterthe onset of fertility decline. Absolutenumbers of young people generallyreach a peak somewhat later. The num-ber of young people then begins todecline, and their share in total popula-tion drops to a much lower, stable levelafter several decades.This pattern varies, however, withthe pace and magnitude of fertilitydecline. The youth bulge tends to belarge in countries where fertility dropsquickly from a very high to a very lowlevel, for instance in China. The speedof the transition also varies widely—from less than 20 years in Japan, Taiwan,and South Korea to more than 50 yearsin the Philippines, where the youth shareof the total population has remained nearits peak of 20 percent for two decades . A rapid transition can be disruptivein the short run because both the abso-lute number of young people and theyouth share of the total population risequickly to high levels. But this situationis temporary. A slower transition maybe easier to deal with in some respects,but the total size of the youth popu-lation can become very large.For example, in China where thetransition was rapid, the youth popula-tion grew 2.5 times between 1950 and1990. In the Philippines, by contrast, theyouth population grew 3.3 times over thesame period. Given population momen-tum, such a large increase in the numberof young people has important implica-tions for future population growth.  WHAT ARE YOUNG PEOPLEDOING? Marrying later. Policymakers have ad-vanced various proposals to mitigate theeffects of the youth bulge on populationgrowth. One core notion is that delay-ing childbearing will reduce populationgrowth even if the total fertility of couples remains the same.Many governments have raised thelegal age of marriage, and policymakershave encouraged young people to marrylater, to lengthen the interval betweenmarriage and first birth, and to extendintervals between births. Such changesshould improve the health of mothersand children as well as helping nationsachieve their demographic goals.Government intervention may notalways be necessary, however, because Table 1 Demographic and social trends among young people (age 1524 except where otherwise noted) in 10 Asian countries, 195090 YouthYouth sharePercentagePercentage in schoolPercentagePercentage singlepopulationof totalsingle(ages 15–19 only)in labor forceand out-of-schoolCountryYear(in thousands)population (%)MaleFemaleMaleFemaleMaleFemaleMaleFemaleBangladesh19507,583186605NE864630197011,308177512255815578199022,847218230312076765918India195069,279195418239854239121970100,3631867273412753444191990165,826207641361569265232Pakistan19507,4401956301528984729197012,1091881471867986843199022,415208059221075116552Indonesia195015,941207939221185296532197021,320187943281674325932199034,870208660443766335637Philippines19503,76018846813259057744719707,559208572282570426351199012,285208674403761365439  3  Asia–Pacific Population &  Policy young people in Asia are already waitinglater to marry. In 1950, 46 percent of Asian women age 15–19 were single; by1990, this proportion had risen to 72percent. (All regional figures excludeChina.) Among women age 20–24, theproportion single rose over the same 40-year period from 16 to 31 percent.Although less dramatic, the proportionof young men who were single also roseacross the region.East Asia has led the trend towardlate marriage. In this region, the propor-tion of women single in the full agerange (15–24) rose from 70 percent in1950 to 91 percent in 1990. Among men,the proportion single rose from 87 to 96percent. In South Asia, the absolutelevels were much lower, but the changeswere even more dramatic: the propor-tion single rose from 18 to 42 percentfor women and from 56 to 77 percentfor men. Southeast Asia has been in anintermediate position.Table 1 (columns 5 and 6) shows thetrend clearly at the national level. It isimportant to appreciate the significanceof delayed marriage in absolute num-bers. Between 1950 and 1990, the numberof single young women in Asia rose nearlyfourfold—from 22 to 82 million. Some-what more than half of this increase wasdue to delayed marriage. Staying longer in school. As with per-centages single, school enrollment hasincreased throughout the region (Table1, columns 7 and 8). In many countries,the upward trend has been stronger forwomen than for men, resulting in someconvergence between male and femalepercentages enrolled in school. Thetrend has also been stronger for youngpeople in the 15–19-year-old age group,as featured in this portion of the table.In Asia as a whole, the proportion of girls age 15–19 who were enrolled inschool rose from 14 percent in 1950 to26 percent in 1990. For boys, the pro-portion rose from 23 to 39 percent. Therise in enrollment levels was muchsmaller for the 20–24 age group. By1990, 12 percent of men and 6 percentof women in this age group were en-rolled in school.East Asia had the highest levels of school enrollment for both sexes and thegreatest increase over the 40-year period:In 1990, 74 percent of girls and 73 percentof boys age 15–19 were enrolled in school.In Southeast Asia, enrollment levels weremuch lower, and the level for girls (34percent) was a bit below the level for boys(39 percent). In South Asia, school enroll-ment was lower for boys (34 percent) andmuch lower for girls (16 percent).Again, it is important to considerwhat this means in absolute numbers.In South Korea, for example, the totalnumber of young people in the full agerange of 15–24 rose from 3.8 million in1950 to 8.8 million in 1990, an increase Table 1, continued YouthYouth sharePercentagePercentage in schoolPercentagePercentage singlepopulationof totalsingle(ages 15–19 only)in labor forceand out-of-schoolCountryYear(in thousands)population (%)MaleFemaleMaleFemaleMaleFemaleMaleFemaleThailand19504,092207756848689725319706,530188363151080787257199012,249228268282776706451China1950101,340188836NE59277NE331970158,205198962NE78780NE571990249,890228775NE108481NE70Japan195016,396209277414674586652197019,831199484646462555651199018,948159692808245444242South Korea19503,78619704730118143514019705,68818977940276549716319908,815219890676457505550Taiwan19501,62320815926107837605219702,97220957647376643615019903,759199686596260486047 NE: Not estimated. Source: Xenos with the assistance of Kabamalan 1998, appendix tables. These appendix tables also provide data for the region as awhole, the three subregions, and seven additional countries: Brunei, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, and Sri Lanka.  4  Asia–Pacific Population &  Policy Printed on recycled paper with soy-based ink.of 132 percent. Over the same period thenumber of young people enrolled inschool rose from 0.5 million to 3.7 mil-lion, an increase of 653 percent. Thisincrease has placed heavy demands onSouth Korea's education system.Although the proportion of youngpeople in school should rise a bit higherin South Korea, the absolute number inschool is projected to drop to 3.0 millionby 2025 due to the decrease in the totalyouth population. This pattern of sharprise and then decline in the numbers inschool has already occurred or can beanticipated in every country of the region.The projected decline in SouthKorea's total youth population com-bined with a rise in the proportion inschool will result in a dramatic drop inthe number of young people out of school—from 5.1 million in 1990 to 3.6million in 2025. More or less likely to participate in thelabor force. For young men, labor forceparticipation has declined steadilythroughout the region (Table 1, column9). This undoubtedly reflects the stea-dily increasing proportions of youngmen enrolled in school.For women, however, the pattern ismore complex (column 10) and muchharder to measure, clearly affected bycultural factors as well as levels of economic development. Even countriesin the same region show contrastingpatterns. In Southeast Asia, for example,female labor force participation rates havegone up in Indonesia, Malaysia, andSingapore but have gone down inMyanmar, Brunei, Thailand, and thePhilippines.  A FOCUS ON THOSE AT RISK  AND HARD TO REACH Available statistics do not allow aprecise identification of young peoplemost in need of reproductive healthservices. It would be useful, for instance,to identify young people who are single,out of school, out of work, sexually active,and living away from their families.Information on the number of youngpeople who are single has importantimplications for health policy andprograms because single people may beparticularly likely to engage in high-risk behavior. Survey data from the Philip-pines suggest that “the longer menremain single, the greater their risk of exposure to HIV infection” (Balk et al.1997). Single women, who may be livingaway from their parents to pursueeducation or a career, also have impor-tant reproductive health needs.Young people who are both singleand out of school (Table 1, columns 11and 12) are one of the most difficultgroups to reach with reproductivehealth and family planning programs.The numbers in this group result froma kind of race over time between risingpercentages single and rising enrollmentrates. In much of the region, there havebeen major shifts toward later marriage,particularly for women, but enrollmentrates for girls have not moved upwardto the same extent. Between 1950 and1990, the percentage of young womensingle and out of school rose in everycountry except Japan, Hong Kong,Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines.Trends for young men have beenquite different. Up to 1990, only two of the countries covered here had majorincreases in the percentage of youngmen single and out of school—India andPakistan. Several other countries haddecreases, with the upward movementof enrollment rates easily outpacingmale marriage delay.Despite strenuous government ef-forts to expand educational facilities,the proportion of young people singleand out of school is projected to increasein all but the most economicallyadvanced countries of the region—parti-cularly among women.In many countries, policies andprograms in family planning and repro-ductive health will have to be redesignedor expanded to meet the needs of thisburgeoning population group. Policy-makers could also make use of addi-tional information to identify morespecific segments of youth populations.Certainly a more detailed examinationof urban youth would be useful, partic-ularly of young people who have re-cently migrated to urban areas and areliving apart from their families. Inaddition, policies and programs canbenefit from the growing number of surveys in the region that are measuringthe rates of risk-taking behavior amongvarious categories of young people. FURTHER READING Peter Xenos and Midea Kabamalan.1998. The changing demographic and social profile of youth in Asia. Asia-Pacific Population Research ReportsNo. 12. Honolulu: East-West CenterProgram on Population.Peter Xenos with the assistance of Midea Kabamalan. 1998. The socialdemography of Asian youth: A recon-struction over 1950–1990 and projec-tions to 2025. East-West CenterWorking Papers Population Series No.102. Honolulu: East-West CenterProgram on Population.John Bongaarts and Judith Bruce. 1998 .Population growth and policy optionsin the developing world. 2020 Brief No. 53. Washington, D.C.: Interna-tional Food Policy Research Institute.Deborah Balk, Tim Brown, Grace Cruz,and Lita Domingo. 1997. Are youngpeople in the Philippines takingchances with HIV/AIDS?  Asia-PacificPopulation &  Policy 40 (January).
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