This is how the pyramid looked in 1950 — the earliest datapoint.
Obviously this was a very young country — over two-fifths of the people were under 15. Another quarter was between 15 and 29. A fifth were ‘prime working age’ — 30 to 54. The mature aged (45-59) were merely a tenth.
The population became slightly younger by 1970.
Over the following two decades, however, there were subtle changes. In 1990, the ‘children’ still made up over 40% of the population. But the ‘youth’ now accounted for nearly 30%, and the share of over-30 year olds fell.
In the subsequent two decades, we started a major demographic transition. In 2010, only about 30% of the population was children, around the same as the youth. And the share of the prime working age rose above 20% for the first time.
Bangladesh is currently experiencing a ‘youth bulge’. In 2010, nearly a tenth of the population were (potentially) angry young men — male in their 20s. This proportion is going to only rise in the coming years. Imagine 15 million sexually repressed young men with little prospect in life. That could be tomorrow’s Bangladesh.
Tomorrow’s, but probably not today’s. The demographic structure of Bangladesh is similar to that of many Arab countries. Many European countries experienced a similar transition in the late 19th century or the first half of the 20th century. And many East Asian countries went through this in the past 50 years. There is a strong correlation between youth bulge and major social upheavals — wars and revolutions, but also rapid economic progress. Why should Bangladesh be an exception?
The striking thing about Bangladesh it seems to me is not that it’s potentially volatile, but that it’s actually so very stable.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want millions of young people burn down the country in the name of some revolution. But it’s striking that they are not out there.
Or maybe there. Maybe we are on the cusp of something big. And if we can navigate that ‘big thing’ successfully, we should be able to reap the demographic dividend by 2030, when the population structure will be very conducive for a productive and prosperous society.