Zim In Youth Population Bulge: Is Zimbabwe Ready to Harness This Demographic Change?

THE 2022 Population and Housing Census preliminary results have since been released with latest figures showing that the country has witnessed an annual population growth rate of 1.5%. Zimbabwe’s population was at 7.5 million people in 1982 and the latest statistics shows that it has taken 40 years for Zimbabwe’s population to double.

By Michael Gwarisa

According to population and demographics experts, at the current population growth rate, it will take Zimbabwe probably about 15 years to double to about 30 million people. According to the latest 2022 population and housing census results, the population of Zimbabwe as at 20th April 2022 was 15,178,979, of which 7,289,558 (48%) were male and 7,889,421 (52%) were female, giving a sex ratio of 92 males for every 100 females. Given the 2012 population size of 13,061,329, this gives an annual population growth rate of 1.5 percent.

Over the years however, it has been evident that Zimbabwe’s youthful population size is growing bigger. The 2014 Human Development Report stated that by year 2013, Zimbabwe was a youthful country, with approximately 67.7% of the 13 million total population that was recorded then being those under the age of 35.

Although this youth cohort or ‘Youth Bulge’ represents a potential for greater employment, income and savings, experience has shown that a large young population doesn’t always automatically translate into economic growth. In other countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, they managed to benefit from the demographic transition, the changes in the population structure and distribution.

To tap into the Youth Bulge, key institutional frameworks related to health, education and governance must accompany it, and the labour markets must be well developed and well planned.

United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) Zimbabwe Country Representative, Dr Ester Muia said while Zimbabwe was actually experiencing a demographic transformation with a huge youth bulge, there is need to formulate strategies to ensure the country can benefit from this change in population structure.

We must understand that demographic resilience is really transformative. It emphasizes the need to reconsider traditional norms especially relating to the roles of women and men in society, families, in communities and in our nations and look at how to put the societies back from turning demographic challenges into opportunities.

“Given the youthful population in Zimbabwe through past studies, like many other developing countries, we are actually experiencing a demographic transition with a huge youth bulge which should be turned into a demographic dividend and look at how best to invest in that bulge to fast-track our development. The question we should ask ourselves is, will Zimbabwe benefit from this demographic transition and if so, how?  Will the demographic transition that we are seeing be sustained in the future? Will the country develop the needed measures to transform that unprecedented number of youths into assets?” said Dr Muia.

She added that to achieve the prosperity, countries experiencing the demographic changes must have some kind of demographic resilience.

“We must anticipate and understand the way the population is changing. We must develop unique responses based on the data that really mitigate some of the potentially negative effects and look at how we can fully harness the opportunities that also come with demographic change.

"Demographic resilience is productive as it stresses the importance of anticipating and 
planning for demographic change and looking at how best to invest in the social sector 
such as education, housing, water supply, health, gender equality and access to decent
work across generations.”

While Zimbabwe is experiencing a youth bulge, there still remains a myriad of challenges which might hamper the country’s efforts to tap to into the youthful demographic dividend and these include drug and substance use, increased new HIV infections in young women and and girls and chief among all,  the unending migration caused by high unemployment levels in the country that have seen millions of young Zimbabweans living the country for greener pastures.

Experts have warned that migration has its negative consequences which include decreased population in the country of origin and this may result in stunted economic growth and failure to realize any benefits from changes in the population structure.

Professor Marvellous Mhloyi, a demographic expert from the Department of Demography and Development at the University of Zimbabwe said the Zimbabwe was losing its young people to migration and this will directly threaten the existence of the Zimbabwean economy at some point in the future.

“What we need to note as Zimbabweans is that while the developed countries are benefiting from our young populations and they are importing our young people to the Western Countries. The question is what will happen in Zimbabwe should our population go below replacement levels as is happening in the developed nations? Where will we get the labour from? The developed nations have benefited from importing labour from us largely because we have a young population and our economies are not necessarily that stable and we have that excess population.

“The challenge that we have is that indeed, we are having a demographic transition in Zimbabwe, but this demographic transition is unprecedented. It is unprecedented in the sense that normally or in the developed world, the demographic transition was driven by decreasing fertility and decreasing mortality.

“Now in our country Zimbabwe, we have had very high mortality in the late-80s to the mid-90s from HIV and AIDS and we kind of recovered and then we had the COVID-19 though it did not have such a demographic impact such as the HIV and AIDS pandemic. But we are having mortality which is not necessarily decreasing to the level of the developed nations which have gone past many countries. Fertility is declining but migration is increasing significantly and the migration which is occurring is of those who are of middle age,” said Prof Mhloyi.

She added that by the time Zimbabwe reaches those non replacement or low levels of population growth stages, it won’t be able to import any labour from anywhere.

“What is replacement fertility for Zimbabwe, what policies do we need to be able to sustain the demographic level which will be sustained in the future? We may not necessarily be led by the old demographic knowledge that we used to have because this situation that we are having is unprecedented. We need quite serious and in-depth analysis of the data that we have. We also would need additional information, qualitative and quantitative to be able to understand the drivers of our components of population growth, fertility, mortality and migration.”

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe currently does not have a population policy with indications that the last policy was as had almost 30 years ago.



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