The world is demographically lopsided more than ever before: old people are concentrated in rich countries, and the rest of the world is crowded with the young. Whoever said that the young shall inherit the earth must think again. As nations get more affluent, their populations also get more aged. In an increasingly prosperous world, the future generations are losing entitlement.
The young are between the ages of 10 and 24, making a fourth of the global population. In 2010, an estimated 524 million people were aged 65 or older. By 2050, this number is expected to triple to 1.5 billion, nearly one-fourth of today's total population. Late marriage, singlehood, and fewer children might further skew the global demography with a greying population.
In today's world, the young have diminished clout and visibility. In the immediate past century, they fought wars, led revolutions, organized protests and spearheaded cultural movements. It was they who defied authorities, toppled tyrants, and broke barriers in the name of equality, freedom, and justice. But this century already seems barren for them. Except for gang fights, drugs, pornography, and militancy, the commitment of youth is vague and weak.
True, more of them are going to school, and more of them are working. Yet the figures released by the International Labor Organization show that two out of five young people are either not working or working in such ill-paid jobs that they cannot escape poverty. Surprisingly, youth unemployment is high in richer countries. It is 25 percent in Europe. In the USA, 17 percent of those between the ages of 16 and 29 are neither in school nor working.
The picture is opposite in developing countries. China, facing a shortage of young workers, had to end its decades-old one-child policy in 2015, allowing married couples to have two children. Many developed countries are tweaking their immigration policies to welcome young workers from less developed countries.
But the power of youth seems limited to the job market only. In the larger context, the young generations do not have an agenda to push. Excluding religious zeal, ideological footing is next to nothing. In so much as the youth of today are concerned, they are more prepared to follow than to lead.
For a country like Bangladesh where about 30 percent of the population is young, the future not only depends on them but it is entirely captive in their hands. Not a single sphere of life exists where hopes are not pinned on them. Whether in politics, education, invention, or any other thing, young people are expected to lead the way, breaking the status quo and ushering change.
And that has been happening in many cases. Many young Bangladeshis have earned national and international recognition for their leadership and talent. But those are more the exception than the rule. In most cases, the world is changing them instead of them changing the world. Always a bundle of energy, youth now seldom finds expression in doing daring things.
Young people could go without food, shelter, and medication for days to write poetry or explore a region or fight for a revolution. They could die for love, kill for it too. But all of these seem to have changed since they started indulging in pleasurable things. Sex, drugs, video games, mobile phones, the Internet, and the temptations of an easy life have taken the bite out of youth.
Given the size of its youth population, Bangladesh has as much right to be hopeful as fearful about their role. Not just a few success stories, but an overall involvement of the young minds hold the future in their hands. A lot of it depends on how they are handled.