“Demographic Dividend” – Can Bangladesh reap it?

Introduction :

Given the positive growth rate of population and of labour force, Bangladesh, like other low-income countries assume that an elastic supply of labour is available and therefore, investment growth is viewed as the key constraint to faster economic growth.

However, in recent years, the labour constraint’ has also been receiving attention since the shortage of skilled and employable labour is being felt. In this context, the youth labour force can play an important role. In fact, the growing youth labour force is often highlighted as a ‘demographic dividend”.

The younger labour force may face additional vulnerability because of their age. The transition from adolescent to adulthood, side by side, transition from school to the workforce is often difficult, especially for the youth from low-income families, who are likely to enter the labour force earlier than the others.

The youth labour force did not receive adequate attention in the context of the Bangladesh labour market. There was a lack of attention in the past because of the assumption that they enter the labour market smoothly through family employment.

In an economy dominated by family employment, the entry of the youth labour force is considered an automatic process where they are first engaged as unpaid workers in family enterprises. But this option may no longer be available as the youth labour force receives education and aspires to move to new occupations and paid jobs.

In the case of girls, the scenario is a bit different. If the family needs some sort of support for household chores or even in some sort of family employment, female youth is considered as a given and granted labour force. where they are obviously unpaid and nobody bothers to count them as they could be paid workers. Female youth are forced by their families to leave the schools and/or marrying them off for this type of work often.

Background :

The potential of the existence of demographic dividend in Bangladesh depends on growth and quality of the youth labour force. The prospect of utilizing the growing youth labour force provides an important basis for their recent optimism about accelerating future economic growth. The experiences of the rapidly growing economies of Asia also illustrate the cases of the utilization of such demographic dividends to accelerate economic growth.

Data from labour force survey reports of Bangladesh show that the size of the youth labour force (aged 15 to 29 years) was 14.5 million in 2000, 20.9 million in 2010 and 23.4 million in 2013. During this period, about 8.9 million youth joined the labour force. In three sub-periods of 2000-2006, 2006-2010 and 2010-2013, the average annual growth of the youth labour force was 3.86 percent.

In 2013, about 40.3 percent of the total labor force came from the youth group (15-29 years), which is higher than the share in 2010 (36.9) and 2006 (35.8). This can be considered as demographic dividend because this has resulted mainly from growth of the population and only a small increment results from a in rise the labor force participation rate (LFPR), if there was no growth of youth population. The growth rate of youth population was 1.93, 3.46 and 3.98 percent a year in the three particular periods mentioned respectively.

Growth of Youth Population and Youth Labor Force
Growth of Youth Population and Youth Labor Force

Source: Calculated from BBS administered Bangladesh Labor Force Survey 2000, 2006, 2010 & 2013

LFPR among the youth rose from 51.7 percent on 2006 to 57.1 percent in 2013. Increment due to youth population added about 10 million more in 13 years.

Bangladesh has retched the peak of the demographic dividend as population growth rate has significantly slowed down since the early 1990s. Taking 18 years as the time from birth enter the labor force, the rate of entry of youth labor force is expected to decline from 2013 which is evidenced in BLFS 2016 preliminary report. Thus the potential demographic dividend will continue to exist but grow at decelerated pace.

The increase in youth population and labor force is substantially large at present and it will be possible to continue human capital development for a part of the youth and still have a sufficient increase in growth of the current youth labor force. This may not, however, be possible after a couple of years when growth of the youth population and labor force slow down.

Missing female youth :

Proper utilization of the potential demographic dividend requires a correct enumeration of its availability. It is well known that the population census of large scale surveys suffers from age misreporting. Under enumeration of the female population is often substantial the developing countries of Asia and Bangladesh is no exception.

Apart from overall under enumeration, this problem is more pervasive when one comes to certain special age groups for women; there these are 10-14 years and 15-19 years. Existing social taboos and violence against young women discourage reporting the presence of girls in these age groups.

On the basis of Labor Force Survey 2006, sex ratio (number of male/number of female) in the three age groups: 15-19 years, 20-24 years, and 25-29 years are 1.31, 0,88 and 0.79 respectively. In 2010, these were 1.10, 0.82 and 0.86 for the same age groups. Unfortunately, we could not have the calculation from the 2013 survey. This would give similar results.

The sex ratio and the number of male and female in these age groups reveal an interesting feature. In 2010, the male population in the age bracket of 15-19 years exceeds the female population by 687,000 whereas in the age bracket of 20-24 years, the female population exceeds by 1.328,000. Such a jump cannot occur due to any demographic or related reasons. This clearly indicates age misreporting. The age of women who were actually 15-19 years are likely to have been reported as higher. This may be due to laws related to an age bar on marriage and entry into labor force. The latter is even a more serious source of underestimation when it comes to the labor force.

Source: Ibid

In most surveys digit preference in age, reporting is observed, but such large under enumeration of young women reveal serious social bias against this age group. In 2006, under enumeration of 15-19 aged women was even more serious. In this age group, there were 1.455 million more men than women. Such under enumeration of the female population and female labour force in the age group of 15-19 years can have serious adverse implications for appropriate policies and programs for health service provisions and employment generations.


As depicted in the previous section about youth population, youth labor force and female population scenario, young women are often undermined, unheard and untold. While we were talking about the demographic dividend, skilled and unskilled labor force, particularly youth labor force; we forget or over look the intensity of our female youth force which is about half of the total youth force and how they could reap the benefit of demographic dividend in the country.

Young women have been tremendously contributing to garment industries of the country which brings huge foreign currency to the nation and contributing to the total economy. We have been continuously chasing the dream of becoming ‘middle income country by 2021 which is only possible if we can utilize our female labor force in more planned way.

Investing thus on young women is multi fold benefits a nation can have. But these young ladies are often kept in the boundaries of family walls, thinking that they could help better to their mothers either by rearing their younger siblings or helping their mothers in household chores and that has no economic benefit, as perceived. Even some of the young girls when they try to come out from family, leaving their schools to look for pay for services, often find either low paid and/or unskilled jobs.

Our family, community look for immediate returns thus they are sort of discouraged to continue education. encouraged to get married at early age or compelled to go for unskilled jobs in the name of pay for services. But if they are encouraged to continue education and given skills training, they could have proved themselves that young girls also can do better, earn better money and contribute largely to their families. communities and the country.

In addition, if they are given more education, provided short term skills training, they get empowered to take decision about their lives, like delay marriage, delay pregnancy, provide proper education to their kids and develop negotiation skills in their personal and professional lives.



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2 Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), Govt. of Bangladesh; Bangladesh Labor Survey, 2000 Dhaka

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7. Mohammad, Noor (2011), Youth Bulge and Demographic Dividend, Paper presented before the Honorable Parliamentarians, 16 Oct 2011, National Parliament, Dhaka.

8. Nabi, AKM Nurun (2012), Demographic Trends in Bangladesh, paper presented in a seminar organized by department of Population sciences, University of Dhaka. Rahma, R1 (2013), Demographic Dividend and Female Youth Population, the Daily Star, 31 Oct 2013, Dhaka. 9.

10. The Financial Express (2012) Making the best use of ‘demographic dividend, 13 Aug 2012, Dhaka.

11. Westgate, William (2012), Bangladesh’s Demographic Dividend is Arriving 24 April 2012, The Daily Star, Dhaka. (Dr. Noor Mohammad has been working as the Executive Director of Population Services and Training


Dr. Noor Mohammad

Dr. Noor Mohammad has been working as the Executive Director of Population Services and Training Center (PSTC), a leading public health organization in Bangladesh. He could be reached at [email protected]