New Security Beat is the blog of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP).
The Middle East’s Demographic Destiny
Posted by: Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba // Friday, February 25, 2011
The original version of this article, by Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba, appeared on her blog. Sciubba will be speaking at the Wilson Center on March 14 about her newest book The Future Faces of War: Population and National Security.
The so-called “arc of revolution” sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa has some demographers feeling smug. In Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, and Lebanon the population ages 15-29 – a key group for demographers – is very large, about 41-50 percent of all adults ages 15-59. No matter where you’re born, this life period is significant because during this time young adults expect to finish their education, get a job, get married, maybe start a family, and have some say in the way they are governed. As many have noted, the problem in each of these countries is that the desires of young adults are being dashed as they are shut out of economic, political, and even social opportunities. The result is all over the headlines.
Aside from structural failures like corruption and inattention of politicians to creating jobs, why are young people so disadvantaged? The answer lies in demography. Opportunities for young adults are limited in these countries because of what demographers refer to as “cohort crowding,” a situation that results when an age group, in Tunisia’s case those aged 25-29, is significantly larger than the preceding age group. Generally, jobs cannot be created fast enough to keep pace with this demographic bump, so those in the large cohorts are “crowded” out of the labor market. This situation turns into protest and violence when youth from large cohorts fall short of the living standards of preceding generations, which are smaller. In a 2009 Pew Global Attitudes survey, 50 percent of respondents ages 18-29 in Egypt said they thought children born today would be worse off than their parents. In Jordan and Lebanon, 38 and 40 percent, respectively, of respondents had a similarly depressed attitude.
Continue reading on The Future Faces of War: Population and National Security blog.
Sources: Pew Research Center, U.S. Census Bureau.
Photo Credit: “DS-RY028 World Bank,” courtesy of flickr user World Bank Photo Collection (Dana Smillie).