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New study points to ‘demographic dividend’ in Uzbekistan and Central Asia

New study points to ‘demographic dividend’ in Uzbekistan and Central Asia
Photo: UNICEF

A new study published by The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, suggests that the population of Uzbekistan could increase to 44 million by 2100, with Central Asia identified as one of the few regions in the world that will register significant population growth in the coming decades.

 A research team led by Stein Vollset of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in the United States, developed scenarios for fertility, mortality, migration and population for 195 countries. Led by significant population growth in India and Nigeria, which are set to surpass China as the world’s most populous country in the next few decades, the world’s population will peak at 9.73 billion in 2064, up from 7.89 billion in 2020.

However, the researchers also examined how the implementation of policies related to the United Nation’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) which include measures to decrease infant mortality, increase female education, and achieve a more sustainable fertility rate in developing countries, would impact population growth.

This analysis was drawn from projections developed by the United Nations Population Division Department (UNPD) and suggests that if population growth matches the pace necessary to meeting SDG targets, global population would peak in 2046 at 8.79 billion.

For Central Asia and the Caucasus, meeting SDG targets would have a dramatic impact on overall population growth. Projecting forward from recent trends, the region’s population would grow continually through 2100 hitting a population of just under 140 million. But if population growth slows in line with SDG targets, the region’s population will peak in 2054 at 110.47 million. In Uzbekistan, the SDG scenario would see the country’s population peak in 2056 at 40.32 million.  

For a country like Uzbekistan, the projected population growth represents a huge economic opportunity. With populations declining in many countries, including China, the appeal of the Uzbekistan as a country with a growing labor force and consumer market will be considerable.

But in order to take advantage of this “demographic dividend,” the Uzbek government will need to invest prudently in the country’s human resources. This includes ensuring that the education system can equip the young Uzbek’s entering the workforce with in-demand skills, particularly those skills that can contributed to industrial innovation. Job creation will also be key to ensure that total employment can grow in line with the size of the labor force. This will also be important to reduce the need for Uzbek citizens to migrate to other countries in search of work.

In the interest of sustainable development, Uzbekistan should also seek to reduce its current fertility rate of around 2.35 through investments in healthcare and through the empowerment of women in the workforce—something that will require greater provisions for early-childhood education, especially in rural areas.

Moreover, Uzbekistan will need to provide free movement and affordable housing in order to ensure that population growth contributes to economic productivity and supports rising incomes. A World Bank research paper published in January of this year examined the efforts of the Uzbek government to support urbanization through a “unified state policy” that would streamline urbanization regulation, industrialization policy, and the analysis of demographic trends. The report’s author, William Seitz, commenting on the reform of the propiska system of restrictions on internal mobility, notes that if there remain “impediments which prevent people from moving to where their services are in most high-demand, both workers and employers will be made worse off, and Uzbekistan will be poorer in aggregate.”

In this way, a steadily growing population is both a blessing and burden for Uzbek policymakers. For the sake of sustainability, they will need to slow the growth of Uzbekistan population and for the sake of productivity, they will need to ensure that the economy can generate sufficient opportunities for all the Uzbeks who are yet to be born.