Demanding the future: navigating the Pacific's youth bulge

Youth Demographics Pacific people Papua New Guinea Pacific Area

In the Pacific Islands region, high population growth has generated a corresponding increase in the number of young people: at least half the region's population is aged under 23. Of all the challenges the region faces, this ‘youth bulge’ will be one of the most significant. It will affect employment, health outcomes, and sustainable urbanisation, as well as peace and security. The impact of COVID-19 will only exacerbate the predicament. The associated political and social pressures are likely to be particularly acute in the most populous Melanesian island states of Papua New Guinea (PNG), Solomon Islands, and Fiji. How the demands and opportunities of the younger generation are addressed by national governments, regional governance, and development organisations between now and 2050, when the bulge is expected to peak, will determine the region’s trajectory this century. Future social stability, political success, and economic prosperity will depend on whether the young are treated as a boon — harnessed to drive economic growth, innovation, and leadership — or instead subjected to political and economic marginalisation and frustration.

Key findings:

  • High population growth is driving a rapid increase in the proportion of young people in Pacific Island countries, with half the region's population aged under 23. This 'youth bulge' is particularly acute in Melanesian states and will have a major impact on every area of development in the region in the coming decades.
  • Economic prosperity, political success and social stability in the Pacific Islands region in the future will depend on harnessing this demographic dividend and preventing youth marginalisation and disillusionment.
  • Urgent and coordinated national and regional responses should include addressing pressing health problems, expanding Australia's seasonal worker scheme, increasing migration pathways, and targeted skills and employment programs.
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