Is youth a danger to democracy?

Iranian teenagersDemocracy is a romantic notion; youth are romantic; QED, youth must be democratic. Not so, say some demographers. Richard Cincotta, a consultant in US intelligence and defence, will be explaining his theory about the "youth bulge" in developing countries on PRB Discuss Online tomorrow evening. Could be something to check out.

Cincotta’s argument runs like this. As a youth bulge works its way through the demographic pyramid, it can slow the transition to democracy. Think of Venezuela or Iran, both countries with a large population aged 15 to 30 and both countries which are moving away from democracy.

Where will the impulse for liberal democracy come from – a lower birth rate and ageing populations? The good news, as Cincotta and his colleagues see it, is that as populations continue to age in South America, North Africa, Asia, and then sub-Saharan Africa, their youth bulge will dissipate and the climate will be more democratic.

Elsewhere Cincotta has argued that

In the 1990s, states with a large youth bulge were nearly 2.5 times as likely to experience an outbreak of civil conflict as other states. York University researchers Christian Mesquida and Neil Weiner have also demonstrated that the intensity of recent conflict in war-torn regions is positively correlated to the proportion of young adults in the adult population.

These are not the only demographic elements in civil conflict. He also points out that all of the following affect it as well: rapid urban population growth; low levels of per capita cropland and/or fresh water; high mortality rates among working-age adults; migration; aging and population decline; and high sex ratios.

Realistic, perhaps, but disheartening. Is youth too unstable to be trusted with democracy? Is democracy something best pursued from a rocking chair? Cincotta suggests that this might be the case:

The best bets to make a smooth and long-lasting transition to liberal democracy are those countries where the proportion of young adults (15 to 29 years) in the working-age population (15 to 64) has diminished.


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