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Local Progress Toward the Demographic Dividend Threatened by Coronavirus Pandemic

Over the past 15 years, researchers, advocates, and funders have successfully sparked significant interest in the potential acceleration in economic growth that can occur as population age structures mature, commonly referred to as the demographic dividend. Thanks to these efforts, awareness of the dividend’s multisectoral benefits has increased among policymakers in high-fertility countries, who have released commitments and roadmaps designed to achieve the dividend.

National Population Councils Motivate Demographic Dividend Commitments Among Local Governments

The past two decades have seen significant devolution of policy and budget decisionmaking to local levels. In response, some national policymaking bodies are promoting recognition of the potential demographic dividend and the policy actions required to attain it among subnational authorities. Over the past two years, the PACE—Policy, Advocacy, and Communication Enhanced for Population and Reproductive Health—Project partnered with the National Population Councils (NPCs) of Ghana and Uganda to create powerful advocacy materials that use demographic dividend data and concepts to influence subnational development plans, which establish policy priorities that guide local budget allocations.

Historically, such allocations have often neglected or underfunded family planning, which improves health and development outcomes by allowing women and couples to attain their desired family size and is a key first step toward the demographic dividend. Leaders of both NPCs aim to overcome this gap by targeting national and subnational decisionmakers with evidence-based messages and materials that demonstrate the impact of voluntary family planning for healthy families, communities, and economic development.

In Uganda, the NPC presented demographic dividend advocacy materials to district governing authorities during 22 Local Government Budget Framework Consultative Workshops, which establish budget strategy and execution for the coming fiscal year. The NPC is now assisting districts to integrate family planning and population dynamics into the forthcoming district development plans that will inform local investment priorities for the next five years. As a result, 11 districts have so far identified family planning as a priority in the situation analysis that will inform their development plans, with more expected as NPC’s advocacy campaign continues. A similar approach is beginning to roll out in Ghana, where the NPC’s tailored advocacy materials connect the demographic dividend to development objectives set by governing authorities of three regions.

How Might the Coronavirus Pandemic Affect Prospects for the Demographic Dividend?

Yet even as governments refine their development plans and priorities, they are contending with the massive disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. By upending the delivery of health and education services and threatening economic livelihoods, the pandemic has dramatic implications for countries’ progress toward the demographic dividend, as well as other development goals.

For example, school closures for at least 85% of the world’s students in the immediate response to the pandemic affected not only educational attainment but also child nutrition, social protection, and women’s labor force participation. The immediate consequences will have ripple effects in other sectors as well: More than one-third of youth surveyed in Nairobi in 2020 reported difficulty in accessing contraception during the pandemic, raising questions about future fertility trends.

On Feb. 3, 2021, PACE will explore these questions during the Demographic Dividend Community Session at the Not Without FP Virtual Forum, convened by the International Conference on Family Planning. A panel of experts will share emerging data and insights on the short- and long-term human capital effects of the pandemic and the resulting implications on key pillars of the dividend—access to family planning, fertility, quality education, labor force participation, and women’s economic empowerment—in countries across Africa and Asia. Panelists will also highlight innovative approaches to mitigate these effects and sustain progress toward the dividend. The event is open to all with free registration.

Even as the consequences of the pandemic are still being documented and assessed, the need for concerted investment in the multisectoral programs that both build societal resilience to shocks and promote long-term development remains clear.