LONDON (AP) — The United Nations Population Fund said Tuesday that changing demographics, mainly in Africa and Asia, could lead to rapid economic growth if there is sufficient investment in young people.
The agency said a "demographic dividend" can happen when a country's working age population is larger than its elderly and young populations who are dependent.
"Today's record 1.8 billion young people present an enormous opportunity to transform the future," the fund's Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin said. "Never again is there likely to be such potential for economic and social progress."
He said 90 percent of these young people live in less developed countries where they face obstacles to their rights to education, health and a life free from violence. A staggering 57 million are out of school, and young people today account for two in five of the world's unemployed, he said.
In its State of World Population 2014 report, UNFPA said demographic shifts taking place in about 60 developing countries, primarily in Africa and Asia, are opening a window for a demographic dividend.
The size of the dividend depends largely on the investment those countries make in young people to realize their full potential, the report said.
Osotimehin said at the launch in London that the report makes the case "for urgent investment in young people so they may be engaged in their communities and the development of their nations."
It recommended sustained investment in "revelant, high-quality education," comprehensive health care "encompassing all aspects of sexual and reproductive health," and opportunities for young people to earn a living.
Osotimehin cited East Asia as an example: It invested in young people in the 1960s and reaped a demographic dividend that contributed to a 6 percentage point surge in GDP and a quadrupling of per capita incomes in some countries.
If sub-Saharan Africa adapted this experience to local conditions and made comparable investments in young people, he said "the region could experience an economic miracle of its own, adding as much as $500 billion to its economies every year for as many as 30 years."
The report said a demographic dividend of this magnitude has the potential to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and raise living standards and catapult economies forward.
Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations