By Dan Kedmey
November 18, 2014

A swell in the global population of young people has the potential to transform economies for better or worse, depending on the decisions of today’s policy makers, according to a new United Nations report.

In a report released Tuesday, the UN Population Fund estimates that the global population of young people between the ages of 10 and 24 has hit 1.8 billion, a historic high.

“Never again is there likely to be such potential for economic and social progress,” the report states. But the authors warn that this demographic surge could also have the potential to destabilize nations unless young people can secure access to health services, education and jobs.

The challenges are most acute for less developed countries, where nearly 9 out of 10 of the world’s young people reside. India alone has a youth population of 356 million. The report’s authors called on governments and donors to invest in this population’s education, employment and health, particularly sexual and reproductive health.

“International support can unlock the potential of the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, change agents and leaders,” write the report’s authors.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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