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A Paper!


In the middle of writing one of my term papers this past quarter, I was thinking about how many term papers I’ve written that basically just go to waste.  So in an attempt to somehow avoid that, here’s one I wrote this past quarter for a population geography class.  If it interests you, read on!  If not, I won’t be offended. =]

Age Structure and Socioeconomic Development in Uganda


Perhaps one of the most common mental pictures of Africa is the classic National Geographic photograph of a small group of innocent-looking, smiling African children staring blankly at the viewer.  Whether by virtue of news photographs or other such portrayals, the fact is that Africa is known for its youthful population.  Because this conception is so readily accepted, it is just as readily overlooked in favor of the more menacing issues on Africa’s laundry list of unresolved problems.  This very issue of a young age structure has increasingly become one of the continent’s biggest concerns because of the implications it holds, both direct and indirect.  Specifically for the Republic of Uganda, a nation often seen as a frontrunner in the state of affairs that Africa faces today, the issue of a young age structure is especially significant.  With fifty percent of its population under the age of fifteen, Uganda has one of the youngest populations of any country in the world.[1] With different emphasis but the same urgency, other reports indicate that seventy-seven percent of Uganda’s population is under the age of thirty.[2]

This paper will construct an in-depth view of the dangers and causes of a young age structure in a more general sense, the related issues and implications of Uganda’s case in particular, and the development opportunities that can be derived from the situation.  By closely examining Uganda’s overall situation in the context of its young age structure and applying a combination of principles from both population geography and development theory, a clear plan of action can be developed for Uganda so that it can make the best of its current situation and open up development opportunities for the future.


A country’s age structure is a significant indicator from which many general conclusions can be drawn.  Age structure both affects and is affected by the population processes (fertility, mortality, in-migration, and out-migration) through change that manifests itself in societal institutions.[3] Conventionally, a country’s age structure holds implications that relate directly to its stage in the demographic transition and following that, its socioeconomic status.  Countries like Uganda which have large population of youth are often developing countries.  Although there is no singular reason for this, the general idea that these countries have less opportunities and resources for their people leaves them in a cycle of underdevelopment and uncontrolled population growth.

Because Uganda contains such a young population, its dependency ratio of 1:1 places it as one of the highest in the world (highest in Africa).[4] This means that for every working age person (age 15-64) there is one person (age 0-14 or 65+) dependent on the worker for sustenance.[5] Combined with Uganda’s life expectancy in 2008 of 52.7 years,[6] Uganda’s high dependency ratio is clear reinforcement of its large population below the age of fifteen.  This points as well to a comparatively small labor force, and when combined with low wages (76% of Uganda’s population lives on less than two dollars per day, a gross national income per capita of 370 US$) the outcome is fewer opportunities for the country’s people to save, invest, and ultimately grow Uganda’s society and economy.

In order to reverse this trend, the Ugandan government must begin to create long-term opportunities for its young population.  If Uganda can invest wholeheartedly in its education system and begin to create employment opportunities that will benefit Ugandan society, the country will begin to lessen the effects of its high dependency ratio.  Not only does this mean the investment of monetary resources, but also the time and effort that are built into the successful struggles of any developing nation.

Another danger, and perhaps the largest direct cause of Uganda’s young age structure, is the country’s high fertility rate.  Estimates from various sources place this telling statistic anywhere from an astounding 6.3 to 6.7 children per woman.[7] In fact, since the late 1970’s, Uganda has maintained the highest fertility in all of Africa and a top-ten position in the category worldwide.[8] The harsh reality is that even if Uganda were to be able to reduce its fertility rate to replacement level fertilities, the country would still have a sizeable population of future mothers from this next generation.  Although linking the young age structure directly to the high fertility rate may seem like an oversimplification of the situation, the age structure has been solidified to be the way it is in large part because the fertility rate has been consistently high over time.  One significant aspect that perhaps brings more clarity to the situation is the difference between Uganda’s fertility rate in the rural and urban areas.  In rural areas where there is lesser access to maternal healthcare services, contraceptives and education, Uganda’s fertility rate is 7.1 children per woman.[9] In urban areas where access to these opportunities and services is greater for women, Uganda’s fertility rate is 4.4 children per woman.[10]

At an estimated rate of population growth of 3.2% in 2010, Uganda’s population of 31.6 million is set to double in the next 20 years.[11] With a net migration rate hovering around zero (-0.02 migrants per 1,000 population in 2010[12]), and a considerable death rate (11.9 deaths per 1,000 population in 2010[13]), Uganda’s fertility rate decisively overpowers the other population factors to form the quickly growing and young population.  This is quite an alarming fact, so much so that despite Uganda’s numerous population and health issues, the fertility rate clearly stands out as one of its most urgent problems to solve.

In order to affectively address the issue of a high fertility rate, the Ugandan leadership again must focus on long term solutions to the situation.  In order to do this, the Ugandan government must improve access to and stress the importance of education as means of empowerment, contraceptives, family planning services, and basic maternal healthcare services.  With these institutions in place, the Ugandan people will begin to see that the government’s priority is to care for its people and seek the welfare and development of the state.  If the people are empowered with the knowledge and opportunity to better their society, they will certainly respond in contribution to the Ugandan society.


As we have already seen, the immediate implications of a young age structure can alone form a perilous path for a developing country.  However, as with the particular case of Uganda, a variety of other factors must also be considered in combination with the young age structure, which creates an even more complex set of issues.  Without a doubt, Uganda’s bottom-heavy age structure is an alarming indicator of many other factors of underdevelopment.  Although it would be impossible and impractical to identify and neutralize each and every one of these factors, a few issues stand out from the others—a high maternal mortality ratio, unemployment, and the quality of education.

Uganda’s maternal mortality ratio is also worth examining, measuring at a considerably high rate of 550 deaths per 100,000 live births.[14] For developing countries, a high maternal mortality ratio indicates that mothers are giving birth to children at too young of an age and too frequently.[15] Both of these aspects of the issue are true for Uganda, on top of the fact that maternal healthcare services are both widely inaccessible in rural areas and of poor quality.[16] When considered in combination with the young age structure, a high maternal mortality ratio adds significant weight to Uganda’s burden of population issues.  Specifically, this ratio highlights the already sore subject of poorly healthcare services, the lack of family planning programs, poor education, and a lack of contraceptive use.

Another significant factor in Uganda’s age structure situation is the rate of unemployment.  At a rate of more than 22% among people below the age of 40,[17] it is an alarming indicator that Uganda’s socioeconomic infrastructure is nowhere near to meeting the demands of its youthful population.  Additionally, a large disparity in employment exists between the genders, which is further proof of the limited opportunities inherent to the highly fertile lifestyle that young Ugandan females live.  Perhaps the most telling unemployment-related trend, though, is the estimated 36% of university graduates that are unemployed.  Because Uganda’s agricultural sector employs over 80% of the country’s total labor force, university-educated individuals are left unemployed, in employment that doesn’t utilize their education, or working in Uganda’s isolated economic sector for major banks or the likes of Deloitte and Touche and PricewaterhouseCoopers.[18] Realistically speaking then, Uganda’s employed graduates are denied opportunities to make use of their education.  If Uganda hopes to progress successfully in the future, opportunities must be created for its brightest youths to invest ideologically into society.

One important issue that Uganda has made noteworthy progress in is its education system.  As a sign of the only Millennium Development Goal that Uganda will succeed in, primary education enrollment has increased from 2.5 million to 6 million from 1997 to 2007.[19] Also within that time, the gap in enrollment between the genders lessened.[20] However, there remains concern for the quality of the primary, secondary, and post-secondary education systems.  Many teachers lack sufficient training, most schools do not have adequate amounts of books and other essential materials, and 62% of students drop out at the secondary level.[21] Although universal primary education has been secured through the Ugandan government’s UPE program, the valuable societal effects of education have not yet been manifested.

With its young age structure, Uganda’s leadership must be proactive in addressing these related issues.  If left unchecked, the societal issues like the quality of education and unemployment will deepen the roots of underdevelopment and health concerns like the high maternal mortality ratio will feed back into the young age structure.  These matters are of particular concern in relation to Uganda’s young age structure, and must be considered when forming remedies for the population aspect of underdevelopment.


Although the analysis of Uganda’s young age structure thus far holds a seemingly hopeless attitude, an abundance of opportunity also lies within the very same issue.  If Uganda’s leadership can invest in long-term development by taking the right steps now in order to shape its socioeconomic structure and create productive opportunities for its youth to grow into, the country’s future will certainly improve.  In order to take advantage of these opportunities, though, the aforementioned issues must be first addressed and at least partly stabilized.

The solutions to most of Uganda’s problems regarding its young age structure and the other related issues are actually quite simple in theory.  The difficulty with these solutions is similar to the difficulty in any other development situation: execution and implementation.  Uganda’s leadership has already broken ground in a variety of issues related to its bottom-heavy age structure, including introducing family planning programs, developing the requirements of primary education, and improving access to basic healthcare provisions.  In specific, President Yoweri Museveni’s Poverty Eradication Action Plan has provided significant vision and direction for the country’s struggle to escape its poverty trap.  With resources and positive influences coming in from Uganda’s international donors and non-profit organizations, the country enjoys a significant amount of international aid and attention.

With half of its population under the age of fifteen currently, there is a sense of urgency to Uganda’s need to enact change.  In order to take advantage of the “demographic dividend,” wherein Uganda’s economy would reap the benefits of its age structure when the bulk of its population reaches working age, the country must begin to create opportunities now.[22] Of utmost importance, Uganda’s leadership must address the country’s extraordinary fertility rate by establishing long-term fixes like family planning programs, stable maternal healthcare services, and female empowerment through education.  Closely tied to that, the leadership must continue to prioritize quality education and diversification of industries in order to create long-term employment opportunities for its youth that will benefit the Ugandan society.


As the facts stand, the situation in Uganda is a nightmare from a development standpoint.  Uganda must find a way to battle its high fertility rate and high dependency ratio while addressing the related issues of maternal mortality, unemployment, and education quality.  The development from a young age structure with its host of problems to a more stable age structure with a mature society will be a long and slow process for Uganda.  As with anything, one cannot expect change overnight.  But if Uganda’s leadership can begin to slowly implement and execute change, curb corruption, and continue to make the right connections with international aid sources, the future for Uganda will have a much more positive outlook.

[1] “Country Profile: Uganda,” Index Mundi, Index Mundi, 15 Nov 2010 <;.

[2] Daumarie, Beatrice, and Elizabeth Madsen, “The Effects of a Very Young Age Structure in Uganda,” Population Action International: Healthy Families Healthy Planet, Population Action International, 12 Nov 2010, <;.

[3] John R. Weeks, Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, 10th. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2005, 317, Print.

[4] Kezio-Musoke David, “Africa has world’s youngest population,” East African 20 Dec 2008, Web, 20 Nov 2010, <;.

[5]John Bongaarts, “Dependency burdens in the developing world,” Population Council, 24 Nov 2010, <;.

[6] “World Development Indicators,” World Bank, World Bank, 1 Nov 2010, <;.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “The Effects of a Very Young Age Structure in Uganda,” Demaurie and Madsen.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Country Profile: Uganda,” Index Mundi.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Uganda: Statistics,” UNICEF, UNICEF, 2 Nov 2010, <;.

[15] “The Effects of a Very Young Age Structure in Uganda,” Demaurie and Madsen.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] “Uganda: MTN is Graduate Employer of Choice,”, 30 June 2010, 22 Nov 2010, <;.

[19] Madeleine Bunting, “Debate: the state of education in Uganda.” Guardian 23 May 2008, 15 Nov 2010, <;.

[20] Ibid.

[21] “Uganda: 62 Percent Drop Out of Secondary Schools Due to Lack of Fees,”, 17 Sept 2006, 24 Nov 2010, <;.

[22] Lori Ashford, “Africa’s Youthful Population: Risk or Opportunity,” Population Reference Bureau, Population Reference Bureau, 5 Nov 2010, <;.

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