“Countries that have a high proportion of young people are typically more prone to political violence,” said demographer-in-residence at the Stimson Center, Richard Cincotta, in this interview with ECSP. “That is, not necessarily international war [but] internal conflict, which may take different forms,” including civil and ethnic strife, domestic terrorism, and violent political demonstrations.
The role of unemployed and angry youths in the recent unrest that has swept the Middle East has received a great deal of coverage, but though the region in general is very young, some countries are more so than others.
Tunisia (median age of 29) is actually well into its demographic transition, where fertility declines towards replacement level. “Fertility – the number of children women have in their lifetime – is now lower than it is in the United States,” said Cincotta. As a result, Tunisia’s prospects for achieving a stable, liberal democracy – based on the historical relationship between age structure and political freedoms (see Cincotta’s full post on Tunisia and the two follow-ups for a more complete treatment of that relationship) – are about even.
In contrast, Egypt’s age structure remains young (median age of 24) and Yemen’s (median age of 17) is extremely young. “Those difference are very stark,” said Cincotta, and they play out in the risk of political violence: Tunisia is less likely to experience continuing political violence; Egypt, more so; and Yemen, even more likely.
The relationships between age structure and political violence and the emergence of democratic institutions can be useful in other conflict-prone regions as well. “Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, most of the central band of sub-Saharan Africa – from Nigeria to the Congo, to Kenya and Ethiopia – we know that these countries are volatile, we’re not always sure why,” said Cincotta. But “age structure gives you a clue, because it tells you something about a lot of barriers that are important to development.”
Sources: UN Population Division.