Malawian fishermen work through their catch on their return ashore on the banks of the Lake Malawi at the Senga village on May 19, 2019 in Senga, Malawi. Picture: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP
Malawian fishermen work through their catch on their return ashore on the banks of the Lake Malawi at the Senga village on May 19, 2019 in Senga, Malawi. Picture: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP

Washington/New York — Africa’s potential workforce is likely to be larger than that of Asia by the end of the 21st century as both continents wrestle with different demographic and economic challenges.

The number of 15- to 64-year-old Africans today is a quarter of the size of Asia’s working-age population. By 2100, however, Africa will surpass Asia, a Bloomberg analysis of UN World Population Division data shows. Asia will be confronted by an ageing population, while the shift in Africa will be towards more youth in need of employment.

One caveat for African nations: a fast-growing economy typically requires a robust and growing working-age population and it is not clear that economies on the continent will expand enough to provide employment for job seekers. Further, it is not clear whether potential employees will have the skills those jobs require.

Nigeria’s potential labour force is projected to rise by almost 350%, or 375-million, by the end of the century to more than 485-million. But the IMF recently highlighted substantial inequality in access to education by gender and between the rich and poor in Africa’s most populous nation. According to a survey conducted by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics, a girl born into a family in the poorest fifth of society spends only about one year in school.

“As global supply chains reduce labour inputs with better technology and machines for even lower value-added production, it will be difficult for young workers in Africa to find unskilled manufacturing jobs in the future similar to those now employing Asian youth,” said William Lee, chief economist at the Milken Institute.

The number of available employees worldwide will rise about 29% to 6.5-billion from 5-billion by the end of the century. Africa’s share will jump to more than a third around 2100 from almost 15% currently, according to the Bloomberg analysis. The continent’s working-age population will grow by 2-billion to 2.75-billion in the next 80 years, while Asia’s will decline by 415-million, or 13%, the projections show.

“Most people overlook the fact that the Chinese dependency ratio — the working-age to over-65 population — is deteriorating rapidly and is already showing signs of straining,” Lee said.

Globally, the total number of people aged 15-64 will peak at 6.5-billion around 2090, an increase of 1.5-billion from today. Nearly 80% of this gain is to expected to come from low-income countries, with the remainder from middle-income nations. The potential labour force in high-income countries is projected to shrink as birth rates remain low.

The demographic changes will occur in a relatively short period of time. In 2020, everyone older than 65 will be supported by about seven workers globally, but by midcentury the ratio will drop to four as the share of seniors increases.

These shifts will create challenges for governments in a number of countries. Taxation, assets prices and the use of resources will come under pressure, while innovations in artificial intelligence, machine learning, engineering and computing power may cause trepidation about employment within many industries.

A recent Oxford Economics report estimates that 20-million manufacturing positions will be lost by 2030 with lower-skilled regions hit the hardest. Oxford’s econometric model found that, on average, each newly installed robot displaces 1.6 manufacturing workers. About 1.7-million factory jobs have already gone to robots since 2000, including 400,000 in Europe, 260,000 in the US and 550,000 in China, the report found.

The labour force in North America and Oceana will increase by close to 38-million and 17-million, respectively, while Europe will experience a decline of 137-million or 28%. The working-age population in Latin America and the Caribbean will shrink by 15% or 66-million.

While birth rates have fallen sharply in much of the developed world, migration has enabled the population in North America to continue growing. The number of working-age men and women in the US will rise 1.2% to 243-million by 2030 and then climb 14% to 278-million by 2100. The number of people in North America living longer than 100 years will soar to almost 1.9-million from about 1-million today.

The two most populous nations also are ageing fast. By 2050, China and India will account for 31% of the total population and 39% of the world’s seniors. Meanwhile, both will see their share of the global labour force shrink. India’s working-age population is projected to peak around 2050, but 40 years later there will be fewer 15- to 64-year-olds than there are today.

The shift in China will come sooner. Its working-age population is shrinking already and will contract by 27.5-million by 2030.

India’s working-age population is expected to overtake China’s in 2027.

The potential labour force in Russia, Japan, Germany and South Korea will also  be reduced because of the slow pace of births and migration.