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Abstract

The share of working-age young people (15 to 24 years old) in Africa south of the Sahara has risen due to past declines in mortality coupled with high fertility. This “youth bulge” has created a sense of urgency among national governments and the international development community as the prospect of widespread youth unemployment in Africa, and the social instability and political unrest it could bring, looms closer. As a result, African governments are under pressure to create more and better jobs and opportunities for the region’s young and rapidly growing population.

Africa’s youth bulge does present a challenge, but it may also prove to be an opportunity to advance rural development. A young and better-educated workforce could lead to greater use of more sophisticated farm technologies, commercial agricultural practices, and expansion of rural nonfarm enterprises. These are crucial steps for accelerating agricultural transformation in Africa, and young men and women could be the “agents of change” that the region so badly needs. The literature and debate around youth employment in Africa is therefore one of contrasts—between apprehension on the one hand, and cautious optimism on the other.

The new book, Youth and Jobs in Rural Africa: Beyond Stylized Facts questions some of the stylized facts that underpin the prevailing narratives and policy debates about youth employment in rural Africa. Is Africa’s youth bulge unprecedented? Are youth more likely to adopt modern farm technologies and practices? Are youth more likely to engage in rural nonfarm activities or migrate to urban centers? Are policymakers adequately responding to the youth employment challenge, and are rural young people themselves mobilizing and demanding policy reforms from their governments?