Population Age Structure and Pathways to Inclusive, Effective Governance

Open, accountable, and inclusive governance supported by strong institutions is a key driver of development and lasting peace. Goals around peace, security, and governance are enshrined in national vision and development strategies of many countries, and included in Sustainable Development Goal 16, which aims to foster peaceful and inclusive societies and ensure access to effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions.1

Many factors contribute to inclusive, effective governance and stability. New analysis by PRB, known as the Four Dividends, illustrates that population age structure may be one such factor. The Four Dividends analysis shows that, among countries with a youthful population, a window of opportunity to achieve key development goals opens across four sectors―health, education, the economy, and governance―as fertility declines and the age structure of the population gets older (see Annex).

This shift toward a more mature population age structure is associated with key benchmarks in inclusive, effective governance and stability. The Four Dividends analysis shows that when the median age—the age at which half the population is older and half is younger—reaches 30 years, countries become more likely than not to perform above average on measures of citizen participation (also referred to as the “voice and accountability” benchmark) in government selection, freedom of expression and association, and free media (see Annex).2 As age structures mature further and median age reaches 32, countries become more likely than not to display above-average performance in government effectiveness as measured by public service quality, strength of the civil service, policy foundation, and policy implementation. When the median age reaches 34, countries become more likely than not to exhibit above-average performance in government serving the public interest rather than private, described as the control of corruption benchmark. A maturing age structure is also linked to improved political stability, including reduced risk of politically motivated violence, when the median age reaches 33. These benchmarks are drawn from the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) project, supported by the World Bank Knowledge for Change Program. While not the only source of data on governance indicators, the WGI is useful for its breadth of cross-country indicators that can be analyzed for a large number of countries. 3

Population Age Structure Influences Governance and Stability: Examining Trends in Kenya and Afghanistan

Kenya has established political benchmarks as part of its Vision 2030 Strategy, aiming to achieve a democratic political system that is “issue-based, people-centered, results-oriented, and accountable to the public.”4 PRB’s analysis shows that a country like Kenya, with a youthful population and median age of 20 in 2020, has a 5%, 16%, and 8% likelihood of achieving the control of corruption, government effectiveness, and citizen participation benchmarks, respectively. These probabilities are similar across many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of countries like South Africa that initiated the demographic transition earlier and therefore, have a higher median age. A country such as South Africa, with a median age of 28 in 2020, has a 21%, 40%, and 29% likelihood of achieving the governance benchmarks. For countries still further along in the demographic transition, the probabilities continue to increase: A country like Malaysia, with a median age of 30 in 2020, has a 31%, 51%, and 42% likelihood of attaining the respective benchmarks. Individual countries can and do attain benchmarks with younger or older median ages than these probabilities, which are based on historical data, would suggest. Indeed, as of 2020, Malaysia has already attained above-average performance in the control of corruption and government effectiveness benchmarks.

Figure 1 plots the likelihood of a country with Kenya’s age structure attaining each of these benchmarks in 2050 based on its projected median age if fertility continues to decline. Assuming the median age of the population has reached 28 in 2050, the probabilities increase to 22%, 42%, and 32% for the control of corruption, government effectiveness, and citizen participation benchmarks, respectively.5 On the political stability benchmark, Kenya’s 8% likelihood of attainment in 2020 is projected to jump to 28% in 2050 when the median age reaches 28.

Figure 1: Likelihood of Achieving Governance and Stability Dividends by Median Age in Kenya

Source: Original PRB analysis.

The relationship between median age and each benchmark shows that investing in voluntary family planning can yield important, long-term benefits for countries’ peace, stability, and effective and inclusive governance, in addition to the short-term benefits for health and well-being. As women and couples are better able to plan whether, when, and how often to have children, countries tend to transition from high to low fertility and child mortality. As fertility declines and age structure changes, countries become more likely to achieve the governance and stability dividend.

The interactions between governance, stability, and demography are complex―and demography is just one among many factors that contribute to good governance and stability―as illustrated by Afghanistan. In a period of fewer than two decades, Afghanistan achieved notable improvements in family planning and maternal and child health. Between 2003 and 2015 child mortality fell by nearly 29% and the maternal mortality ratio was cut almost in half.6  Family planning use doubled, but remained low overall at 20% in 2015, and while fertility declined significantly, it remained high overall at 5.3 children per woman.7 With a youthful population, Afghanistan’s median age was 19 in 2020, and in demographic terms the country was statistically unlikely to achieve any of the governance and stability benchmarks: In 2020, Afghanistan had an 6% likelihood of achieving the political stability benchmark and 4%, 12%, and 6% likelihoods for the control of corruption, government effectiveness, and citizen participation benchmarks, respectively. Investment in voluntary family planning fits within a broader range of multisectoral investments that promote effective institutions as well as peace and stability. Family planning investments can yield significant benefits in the short term, including in challenging conditions, while also promoting longer-term impact in the coming decades on governance and stability benchmarks.8


Figure 2: Likelihood of Achieving Governance and Stability Dividends by Median Age in Afghanistan

Source: Original PRB analysis.

More Research Is Needed to Understand the Causal Pathways From Age Structure to Governance and Stability

While the Four Dividends analysis provides insight into the statistical connection between age structure and governance and stability, further research on causal linkages is necessary. Current evidence points to some potential pathways through which age structure may influence governance and stability.

  • A maturing population age structure contributes to increased educational attainment which, in turn, may enhance civic knowledge and participation. When women and couples have access to family planning services that are voluntary and support their individual needs and choices, many choose to have fewer children so they are better able to provide for the health and education of each child. As fertility declines and the median age of the population increases, educational attainment increases. Studies of democratic citizenship find that education is a consistent predictor of political engagement and electoral participation.9
  • A maturing population age structure drives improvements in the economy that create more employment opportunities, which in turn reduce the risk of political violence. Rapidly growing labor forces in slow-growing economies—often the case in youthful countries—can result in increased competition for jobs in the formal labor market, urbanization that exceeds employment growth, and migration that can disrupt community structures.10 These changes can increase the risk of political violence, particularly among young men experiencing unemployment.11 In addition, research has found that age structure is useful in predicting revolutionary conflict within a country.12 Specifically, countries with a large youth cohort are more susceptible to revolutionary conflict compared to countries with a more mature age structure, irrespective of their recent conflict history.13
  • Youthful countries may be more prone to corruption. Corruption inhibits economic investment and equity and limits opportunities for citizens to engage in social, economic, and political lives fully and fairly.14 While little research has examined the relationship between age structure and corruption, the few available studies indicate that a young population age structure can create conditions conducive to corruption. For example, young people may be more frequent targets of bribery and patronage systems in which rewards and opportunities are granted to political supporters, friends, and relatives, particularly in contexts of high unemployment.15 An analysis of data from 150 countries from 2002 to 2012 noted that the relationship between youthful population age structure and corruption remains robust even when accounting for a variety of other factors such as income per capita, foreign direct investment, and unique characteristics of each country.16 This interaction effect is likewise associated with instability and violence.

Other potential causal pathways exist, but merit further analysis. For example, as the size of the young, dependent population declines, countries may have greater resources available for investment in quality public institutions that enhance effective governance. It is also important to better understand the interactions between gender, reproductive health, age structure, and women’s participation in governance mechanisms―both early and late in the demographic transition.

In practice, the pathway from age structure change to improvements in effective and inclusive governance and increased stability likely includes a combination of some or all the potential factors above, as well as factors specific to each context. More research to understand these pathways may help inform complementary investments that countries can prioritize as median age increases.

Strategic Family Planning Program Implementation Can Further Enhance Effective, Inclusive Governance

The Four Dividends analysis shows that investment in voluntary family planning is one ingredient that can contribute to effective and inclusive governance in the long term. To maximize this relationship in the short term, family planning programs can be implemented using approaches that also contribute to improved government capacity, civic participation, and accountability. These approaches include strengthening local mechanisms for participation and inclusion, supporting civil society organizations to generate accountability mechanisms, and building media capacity for informed and engaged reporting.

National laws, policies, and strategies establish goals and guide family planning program implementation in both the public and private sectors. In many countries, including Kenya, policy and budget decisions are increasingly devolved to subnational levels of government. The Kenya Constitution of 2010, and the more recent Public Finance Management Act of 2021, devolved responsibility for health services to county governing authorities and established requirements to share sector strategies and budgets with the public and engage local citizens in decision-making processes. However, county governing authorities have varying levels of experience with planning and budgeting responsibilities, including for health and family planning. Investments that develop such authorities’ capacity to identify local priorities and plan public spending may be needed. In Kenya, the PACE Project worked with County Health Management Teams—who hold primary responsibility for strategic and operational planning and oversight of health services at the county level—to build skills to interpret and use health data and to execute effective budgeting approaches. Such investments help secure needed resources for locally prioritized health programs, including family planning, while also enhancing effective governing institutions at the subnational level.

Public participation for social accountability at each stage of the planning and budgeting process is an important tool to ensure citizen voices are heard and their aspirations considered. Investments that support civil society organizations, citizens, and the media to participate in public budget hearings and access local decisionmakers to voice their priorities directly, including their demand for family planning services, help to achieve this goal. Likewise, investments to train members of the media how to accurately report on family planning priorities, data, policy processes, and the fulfillment of government commitments can contribute to a more informed citizenry and more accountable local government.

As acknowledged in the U.S. Agency for International Development Strategy on Democracy, Rights, and Governance, integrating effective, inclusive governance practices throughout development programming enhances outcomes across sectors.17 Efforts to increase civic participation and effective governance can create a positive feedback loop wherein strengthened governance practices that account for citizens’ expressed priorities lead to more investment in the programs citizens seek to expand, including family planning. Over time, greater investment in family planning contributes to changes in the age structure of the population that ultimately promote additional improvements in effective governance.

Annex: Indicator Definitions and Methods

Indicator Definitions:

Analysis of the governance and stability dividend used the following indicators from the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators for the period 1996 to 2019.

  • Government effectiveness: Perception of the quality of public services and the civil service as well as the quality of policy formulation and implementation.
  • Voice and accountability: Perception of citizen participation in selecting the government, freedom of expression and association, and free media.
  • Control of corruption: Perception of the extent to which the state serves public, rather than private, interests.
  • Political stability and absence of violence/terrorism: Perception of the likelihood of political instability or politically motivated violence.

Source: World Bank, “Worldwide Governance Indicators,” https://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi/.


A full explanation of the analysis methodology is available in the Four Dividends interactive feature. Data from over 100 countries were used to convert the demographic window into an age range based on the median age of the population. Countries with populations of less than 5 million, those experiencing high-intensity conflict, and those with economies dependent on oil or mineral resources were excluded. Median age data were obtained from the United Nations Population Division’s World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision. Multivariate logistic regression analyses generated full and partial logistic functions for each dividend.


This article was written by Haley Brahmbhatt and Chrysantus Shem. At PRB, thanks are due to Kaitlyn Patierno, Elizabeth Leahy Madsen, and Heidi Worley for their review. Special thanks to Apoorva Jadhav, Bamikale Feyisetan, and Clive Mutunga of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), for their time and comments. This article incorporates analysis by Bamikale Feyisetan and Baker Maggwa on the USAID country roadmaps. This publication is made possible by the generous support of USAID under cooperative agreement AID-AA-A-16-00002. The information provided in this document is the responsibility of PRB, is not official U.S. government information, and does not necessarily reflect the views or positions of USAID or the U.S. Government.



1 United States Agency for International Development (USAID), “Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance,” (Oct. 4, 2021), www.usaid.gov/democracy.

2 World Bank, “Worldwide Governance Indicators,” https://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi/.

3 A comparative analysis of corruption measures is available in Debora Valentina Malito, “Measuring Corruption Indicators and Indices,” European University Institute Working Paper RSCAS 2014/13, https://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/29872/RSCAS_2014_13.pdf.

4 Kenya Vision 2030 Delivery Secretariat, “Political Pillar,” http://vision2030.go.ke/political-pillar/.

5 Data used in the Four Dividends analysis are pooled cross-sections of annual observations, which can help us understand the probability of any given country with any given median age in any given year achieving each of the benchmarks or not. The analysis does not predict specific country trajectories or the timing of the transition from one status to another.

6 Nadia Akseer et al., “Achieving Maternal and Child Health Gains in Afghanistan: A Countdown to 2015 Country Case Study,” Lancet Global Health 4, no. 6 (2016): e395-e413; Samantha Kiernan and Serena Tohme, “What Afghanistan Stands to Lose,” Council on Foreign Relations, Think Global Health, Aug. 25, 2021, www.thinkglobalhealth.org/article/what-afghanistan-stands-lose?utm_source=thinkglobalhealth&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=New%20Campaign&utm_term=TGH; and World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, UNFPA, World Bank, and the UN Population Division, Trends in Maternal Mortality: 2000 to 2017 (Geneva: WHO, 2019).

7 Government of Afghanistan, Afghan Public Health Institute (APHI) of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), Central Statistics Organization (CSO), ICF Macro, Indian Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR), and WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO), Afghanistan Mortality Survey 2010 (Calverton, MD: APHI/MoPH, CSO, ICF Macros, IIHMR, and WHO/EMRO, 2011); and Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, CSO and MoPH, and ICF, Afghanistan Demographic and Health Survey 2015 (Kabul, Afghanistan: CSO, 2017).

8 Ellen Starbird, Maureen Norton, and Rachel Marcus, “Investing in Family Planning: Key to Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” Global Health Science and Practice 4, no. 2 (2016): 191-210.

9 Kevin Milligan, Enrico Moretti, and Philip Oreopoulus, “Does Education Improve Citizenship? Evidence from the U.S. and the U.K.,” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 9584, 2003; Thomas S. Dee, “Are There Civic Returns to Education?” Journal of Public Economics 88 (2004): 1697-1720; David E. Campbell, “Civic Engagement and Education: An Empirical Test of the Sorting Model,” American Journal of Political Science 53, no. 4 (2009): 771-86.

10 Henrik Urdal, “A Clash of Generations? Youth Bulges and Political Violence,” International Studies Quarterly 50 (2006): 607-29; and Jack A. Goldstone, “Population and Security: How Demographic Change Can Lead to Violent Conflict,” Journal of International Affairs 56, no. 1 (2002): 3-22.

11 Noah Q. Bricker and Mark C. Foley, “The Effect of Youth Demographics on Violence: The Importance of the Labor Market,” International Journal of Conflict and Violence 7, no. 1 (2013): 179-94; and Hannes Weber, “Demography and Democracy: The Impact of Youth Cohort Size on Democratic Stability in the World,” Democratization 20, no. 2 (2013): 335-57.

12 Richard P. Cincotta and Elizabeth Leahy, Population Age Structure and Its Relation to Civil Conflict: A Graphic Metric Environmental Change and Security Program Report 12, www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/population-age-structure-and-its-relation-to-civil-conflict-graphic-metric; and Richard Cincotta, “Separatist Conflicts Persist, While Revolutions Just ‘Age Away,’” New Security Beat (Sept. 18, 2018), www.newsecuritybeat.org/2018/09/separatist-conflicts-persist-revolutions-age-away/.

13 Cincotta, “Separatist Conflicts Persist, While Revolutions Just ‘Age Away’”; and Tarik Yousef, “Youth in the Middle East and North Africa: Demography, Employment, and Conflict,” in Youth Explosion in Developing World Cities: Approaches to Reducing Poverty and Conflict in an Urban Age https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/media/documents/publication/ACF1AEF.pdf.

14 Klaus Gründler and Niklas Potrafke, “Corruption and Economic Growth: New Empirical Evidence,” European Journal of Political Economy 60 (2019): 101810.

15 Edward Kahuthia Murimi, Arresting Corruption in Africa: Role of Youth, Institute for Security Studies, https://media.africaportal.org/documents/Arresting_corruption_in_Africa.pdf; and Alfred Bridi et al., Youth and Corruption, Working paper 06, 2009, Transparency International Secretariat, Policy and Research Department and European Youth Forum, https://images.transparencycdn.org/images/2009_WP_Youth_EN.pdf.

16 Mohammad Reza Farzanegan and Stefan Witthuhn, “Demographic Transition and Political Stability: Does Corruption Matter?” Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute, CESIfo Working paper no. 5133, (Dec. 30, 2014), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2550129.

17 United States Agency for International Development (USAID), “Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance,” (Oct. 4, 2021), www.usaid.gov/democracy.