Are Bangladesh’s youth ready for the 21st century?

July 25, 2019
July 25, 2019

Reading Time: 6 minutes

BRAC along with BRAC Institute of Governance and Development conducted the Youth Survey with a sample size of 4,200 youth, making it nationally representative, and allowing to understand the current status of youth in Bangladesh.

It is a fact widely understood now that Bangladesh is facing a unique situation that comes virtually once in a few centuries, and that too only to a few countries: the “working age population” of Bangladesh is now significantly larger than the “non-working age population.” What this implies is that most people in Bangladesh now are “naturally ready” to work. What this further translates into is that Bangladesh could give its national production, and hence its economic growth, a major boost by nurturing the potential of this huge, naturally ready youth demographic through proper training and capacity building. That is why this situation has come to be known as the demographic dividend.

But there is another side to it as well. Without proper guidance, this massive youth demographic, instead of giving the dividend, could turn out to be heavily counterproductive by getting derailed by modern day evils such as religious bigotry, militancy and drug abuse. It’s high time that Bangladesh starts making conjunctive efforts to tap into the sea of “natural” human resources that the country is currently sitting atop.


There is a positive correlation between economic growth and the size of the working age population. But whether a country can take advantage of the demographic dividend depends on the effectiveness of the social, economic and political institutions in place and the policies taken. Countries like Thailand, South Korea and Ireland managed to accelerate economic growth by investing heavily in education, incentivising foreign investment and domestic industries and the right conditions for businesses while going through the crucial demographic transition.

Demographic dividend seems to be a one-time opportunity. In many of the countries that once took advantage of demographic dividend – Japan, a glaring example – high life expectancy resulting from growth is already shrinking the share of young population and consequently, growth. In Bangladesh too, increasing life expectancy, in commensurate with economic growth, is also increasing the share of 60+ population. This will eventually reduce the share of working age population, closing this one-time window of opportunity.


Just like the youth needs training to be productive, the government, policymakers, academics, practitioners and development agencies also need ‘schooling’ to understand what the youth want to do with their lives, and how they want to do it. Only then can Bangladesh make meaningful plans to maximise on the rare demographic dividend on offer.

BRAC, along with the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) of BRAC University, conducted the Youth Survey in 2018 to provide an in-depth understanding of the current status of Bangladeshi youth.


The survey followed multistage random sampling technique by dividing Bangladesh into five regions. The total sample size was 4,200 youth (aged 15-35), distributed equally across the five regions (ie, 840 youth from each region), making it nationally representative.

It has been anticipated to have a nationally representative rural-urban breakdown of the sample as well, allowing the exploration of differences in status and opinions of youth from both rural and urban areas.


Most educated youth want government jobs

Nearly half (47%) of the respondents, including both male and female, whose level of education is HSC and above, consider getting government jobs as their most important life goal.

Compared to educated men (42%), educated women (57%) are significantly more interested in getting government jobs. However, life goal choices of women vary considerably with their level of education.

Ensuring a bright future of their children is the most prominent life goal for women with no or limited education.

Unemployment, children’s wellbeing biggest concerns

There is a stark difference between young men and women when it comes to setting life goals. Unemployment is high on the list of concerns for young men while children’s wellbeing tops the list of young women’s concerns.

As much as 45% of young women are concerned about their children’s wellbeing, only 13% of the men said this was their concern. While 34% of young men think unemployment is their biggest headache, only 19% of the young women agree.

Who has vocational education and who doesn’t

Only about 14% of the respondents said they had some kind of vocational education or training.

Among current students, only 16% reported receiving vocational training. Youth with higher levels of education are more likely to receive vocational training than their counterparts with no or lower levels of education.

Less than 5% of those with no or below primary education received training compared to a third among those with education level of HSC and above. So, there is a clear positive correlation between the likelihood of having vocational training or education with the socioeconomic status of the youth.

Migration could be the next big thing

When asked whether they were interested in working overseas, 31% male respondents said yes compared to just 7% women gave the same response. Very few women mentioned overseas migration as their main life goal although this was one of the life goals for many women.

The interest to work overseas is quite strongly correlated with the age: younger youths are more likely to express their interest about overseas migration than older youth. Desired destinations for working overseas also vary by gender and location.

For young men, the most common choice is Middle East; for women, it’s the USA. Urban youth are relatively more selective about their choice of destination; most are interested to migration to the US and Australia whereas rural youth showed interest in diverse destinations including EU, GCC, Fareast Asia, USA and Australia.

Migration and skills: binaries for the future

Many from ultra-poor and poor backgrounds and with no or limited education are interested to migrate.

Among those who are interested to work abroad, the wealthier and more educated are more likely to be engaged in active planning for migration compared to those from poorer backgrounds with limited education.

As a larger share of wealthier and educated youth are interested in actively planning to migrate, they are better prepared in terms of education, vocational training, computer literacy and English language skills on average. But a large number of youth with no or limited education are also interested and planning to migrate. This group is also the least prepared in terms of skills and education.

English language and computer: major skills gap

Only about 16% of the youth assessed their English language and computer skills as good or very good. Large gender and locational differences exist; male urban youth are more likely to be satisfied with their English and computer skills. These two skills are strongly and positively correlated with the youth’s level of education and their socio-economic status.

How most youth prefer to identify themselves 

When asked how they most preferred to identify themselves, nearly half of the respondents chose nationality. This is true for both male and female respondents. Only about 20% of the youth chose religion to describe themselves above everything else. About 14% chose educational quality as their preferred self-identity and 10% chose occupation.

There are some notable gender differences as well. Compared to young men, young women are more likely to choose gender and less likely to choose an occupation and educational attainments as their dominant identity. Interestingly, nationality remains a dominant self-identity choice across all age groups, but religion as a preferred identity grows in popularity with age.

Youth, who have identified themselves as ultra-poor, are more likely to choose nationality as their dominant identity than any other group, almost twice as likely as their richest counterparts.

Who are today’s youth looking up to?

More than half (54%) of the country’s youth say they do not have a role model. Young women are less interested in having a role model in their lives compared to young men. In addition, rural youth are significantly less interested in having role models compared to urban youth. More than 70% of youth with no or limited education could not mention a role model in their lives.

When it comes to having role models ie, people they idolise or look up to, there have been significant variances between the responses of young men and women. Among young men, political leaders are most popular as role models with 35% of the young male responders opting for this.

For men, entertainers (chosen by 25%) and intellectuals (18%) are the next two most popular options. In contrast, intellectuals have been the most popular choice with 34% of young women opting for this. Political leaders are second most popular among young women with 26% choosing a political leader as their role model.

With increasing education and socio-economic status, youth are more likely to choose intellectuals (eg, writers and poets) and less likely to choose religious leaders. Compared to their educated, wealthier counterpart, significantly larger share of youth with limited or no education from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds chose religious leaders. Richer and more educated youth are also

more likely to choose someone from within their friends and families as role model. It means that these youth are more likely to have someone close that they can look up to, who can motivate and influence the youth. These youth are also more likely to be exposed to intellectuals, who may inspire them to pursue higher education and an intellectual career.

Click here to download the survey report.


Rajib Bhowmick is the head of media and external relations at BRAC.

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Hasanat Alamgir
Hasanat Alamgir
4 years ago

I am pleased to read about this Youth Survey. The writer is correct about the Demographic Dividend of Bangladesh’s population that could contribute substantially to the economic growth. With reduced fertility and growing life expectancy the youth segment of the population will shrink over the next few decades. But the findings show that the country did not groom this segment well; most are still looking for government jobs or migration to other countries. Very few are trained or have the confidence to become business entrepreneurs or self-employed. It means the education they are receiving is preparing them only to seek… Read more »