The government is facing a number of challenges in the population sector as the birth rate is not falling to the expected level. The number of old people is also rising.
The country's total fertility rate (TFR) at the time of independence was 6.3. This means married women aged between 15 and 49 gave birth to more than six children on an average. Since 1980 to the first decade of the 21st century, the TFR decreased due to successful family planning services.
Over the last 50 years, population grew by 105 million. Bangladesh is now the most densely populated country in the world with more than 1,015 people living in a square kilometre.
The age structure of the people has changed due to the fall in TFR and the rise of average age. According to population census, about two thirds of the population is between 15 and 60 years of age. Considering the retirement age of the government and private services, people aged up to 60 years are considered to be able to work. Around 27 per cent of the population is under 15 and 8 per cent over 60 years.
Analysts see the situation as a good opportunity for the country's development and urge the government to seize the opportunity. Young people between 15 and 29 years of old are very prospective. The number of this group is around 50 million. But unemployment in this section is increasing.
In 2017, unemployment rate of this section was 11 per cent. The country will greatly be benefited if it can utilise them in a planned way. The national population policy says 25 ministries have to be engaged to turn these people into human resources.
Entry of the females into the labour market began to grow in the 1990s. But a suitable environment is yet to be created for them. Service and IT sectors will flourish in future. Young generation including the female workforce has to be educated and trained on job-related activities.
As per prediction of the UN, the number of old people will be 20 million in 2025. Government officials and demographers say there are three types of challenges for old people. They face health complications with aging with little or no earnings. Majority of these people do not get support from their families.
However, the opportunity of the working-age population will remain open for few more years. After that, the number of old people will increase. So the birth rate has to be reduced and the youth population need to be utilised properly.
Over the last few decades, the country saw the decline in fertility and mortality rates and subsequent increase in the number of working-age population which offer the country an opportunity of accelerated economic growth. Economists optimistically call this potential for accelerated growth as 'demographic dividend'.
Until the early 2040s, Bangladesh is expected to gain an average 1.0 per cent additional yearly GDP (gross domestic product) because of this growing working age population. However, shifts in age structure of a country's population do not automatically guarantee growth. Rather, it requires investment in a number of areas and a set of policy commitments to systematically manage working-age population for productive economic activities.
Bangladesh should realise the full potential of its demographic dividend with decisive policies to expand labour markets through ensuring participation of the young working-age people in the labour force.