The catchword demographic dividend for Bangladesh has long obtained a firm footing in the parlance of economists, development theorists, policy formulators, politicians and journalists. In a country with the population belonging to the 15-49 age group comprising about 54 per cent of the total, this is quite appropriate. But has the country done enough home work to reap the potential dividend from its human resources? That it is yet to be in a position to make the most of its precious resource is best explained by the highest unemployment rate among the bachelor and master degree holders. When the high-end employment is so scarce, the middle and low end jobs are also not easily available. Had it been different, little educated youths would not have embarked on uncertain and perilous journeys on way to Europe, America and a few countries in South-east Asia. Also low-end jobs are not paying enough and many youths are dissatisfied and would take risks for better paying employment abroad.
It is against such a backdrop comes the revelation that time is fast running out for Bangladesh to reap the demographic dividend. By 2029, the country's population will start showing its signs of becoming an elderly society. From 2033, working age population will start decreasing and by 2047, it will become a geriatric nation. When the majority of people turn into working hands, the number of dependants naturally drops giving a nation opportunities for advancing its development agenda. Bangladesh got this opportunity from 1978 and is expected to enjoy it up to 2033. Of the 55 years it got, 43 years have already passed and there remains only 12 more years. Also, more than two years have been ruined by the pandemic. The multidimensional losses suffered by Bangladesh along with most other nations on account of the pandemic cannot be overcome so easily.
Right now the composition of the population is in favour of development expediency with 68 per cent of the population belonging to the age group 15-64. The 0-14 per cent younger population comprises only 26.8 per cent and within another 12 to 20 years they will become adults to replace only a small fraction of today's working hands. With the longevity of people rising at an appreciable rate, today's 5.2 per cent population of the elderly people aged 60 and above will increase at a greater rate. Now one elderly person is dependent on 13 earning people and by 2040, one such person will be dependent on the income of only six.
Bangladesh's demographic transition, according to the United Nations International Children's Fund (UNICEF), towards an ageing society will happen within 18 years, next only to Singapore which is slated to reach this slot within 17 years. Singapore has done its part quite efficiently. Its per capita income is comparable to those of the developed West. Its scarcity of land could not be an impediment to its prosperity. Bangladesh has also made tremendous progress but its population size and inequitable distribution of wealth have not allowed the majority of the population to achieve a desirable living standard. So planning with the population for the next decade or so will decide its course of socio-economic prosperity.