“There seems to be a reasonably strong connection, between the drop-off in post-Cold War conflicts” and a decline in the proportion of youth in global population. This ageing, however, has been uneven across the globe and risks remain, said Goldstone.
“Ninety percent of all children under the age of 15 in the world today are growing up outside of North America, Europe, and the wealthy countries of East Asia,” he said, and in four or five decades time, “90 percent of the workforce of the world will be workers that have grown up outside of the rich countries.” It is this population’s “future productivity [that] will go far to determining whether quality of life gets better or worse.”
Demography and State Fragility
States across sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East that perform poorly in indexes of state fragility also tend to have the youngest populations. “This could be just an unhappy coincidence,” said Goldstone, “but I don’t think that’s what’s going on. I think what we’re seeing is a kind of virtuous and vicious circle.”
“Where government is weak, ineffective, doesn’t provide education, doesn’t provide security, it’s advantageous both for individuals and for groups to have larger families,” he said. “However, as population grows, it’s more difficult for the government to provide adequate education and security for the larger, more youthful population.”
“On the other hand, if you can get on the track for a stronger, more legitimate government – a government that’s able to provide education, provide security of property, [and] encourage investment…fertility tends to drop quickly.” “This in turn re-enforces the ability of governments to direct resources to education and economic growth,” said Goldstone.
“We live in a world where the countries with weak, fragile governments [are] about a third of the global population. But in another 30 years, if things remain as they are in terms of governance, you’re looking at closer to half the world’s population living in those more difficult circumstances,” he said.
“If the democracy is not well established, if rule of law is not well regulated, than people don’t necessary trust the outcome of peaceful electoral competition,” said Goldstone. “If people don’t like the outcome of an election, or they feel they’re being excluded, or things are one sided, they may mobilize.” This lack of political trust can result in instability and violence such as the recent protests by Thailand’s “red shirts.”
Although many Latin American and Asian states are heading towards “voluntary reduced fertility, strong economic growth, and stronger and more stable governments,” a real risk remains, he asserted. Africa, for instance, is “liable to gain a billion out of the next two billion in global population growth.”
Challenges for the Future
“For me, there are two big challenges posed by global demography,” opined Goldstone.
First, “given that 90 percent of today’s youth are in developing nations, providing them with opportunities to become productive adults through education, stable environment, [and] socialization is crucial.”