Cape Town - There are potential economic benefits that South Africa could draw from its very youthful population, according to Thuthukani Ndebele, a demographic analyst at the SA Institute of Race Relations (IRR).
An IRR report has found that the HIV/Aids policies adopted by the government after 2007 have had a very positive effect on demographic trends in the country, with factors like life expectancy and the death rate improving since then.
Using data from Statistics SA, the IRR report shows that life expectancy increased from 58.8 in 2007 to 64.3 in 2015. Life expectancy is now about 15% higher than in 2002. At provincial level, Gauteng and the Western Cape show better lifespan statistics than the other provinces.
Between 2007 and 2015 the death rate fell from 11.6 to 9.6 - determined per 1 000 people in a given year. Data on deaths between 1997 and 2014 shows that they peaked in 2006, but have since begun to decrease.
“The data shows an important success that the Zuma-administration achieved in health policy,” according to Ndebele.
“With appropriate education, economic and empowerment policies, it should be possible to accelerate young people into the middle classes where, as entrepreneurs and consumers, they could drive the growth of the economy."
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In his view, too few of those policies are, however, effective with the result that the youth are too often regarded as a threat – or drain – to society when they should be regarded as a powerful economic asset.
Ndebele's demographic analysis shows there are now some 835% more people in the country than a century ago. The white population has grown slowly and began to shrink after 2010, therefore, bucking the national trend.
Births of male babies have consistently exceeded those of females over a period of 20 years.
The population growth rate of males, therefore, exceeds that of females. According to Ndebele, this will partly contribute to the likelihood that males will outnumber females in future. This also shows from forecasts in a IRR survey.
The overall fertility rate (births per woman) has fallen by almost 9% over the past 13 years. Gauteng and the Western Cape have rates lower than those of all other provinces. According to Ndebele, this is likely due to Gauteng and the Western Cape being better off economically.
"A large section of the population is of working age and increasingly, fertility, life expectancy, and mortality have improved," said Ndebele.
"Such positive demographic patterns, coupled with quality education and better employment opportunities, could see South Africa exploiting one of its greatest potential assets - the human factor - to reach its full economic potential."
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