27 November 2009

Children May Be Our Future, But With No Education That Could Spell Trouble

Young men are the primary players in most forms of armed conflict worldwide. It would not be surprising, then, to learn that "youth bulges" - a demographic trend resulting from high fertility and declining mortality in societies - portends increase risk for future conflict. And it does.

German sociologist, Gunnar Heinsohn (the ostensible founder of "youth bulge theory") even suggests that these bulges have been a major cause of civil unrest and ethnic conflict in the 20th Century.

Bilal Barakat of the Vienna Institute of Demography and senior conflict demographer, Henrik Urdal from PRIO have looked at time series data from 120 countries to see whether education might be a mediating factor - whether a population boom of young men might increase conflict risk primarily in areas where they have little access to educational opportunities (which also limits their long-term employment prospects). And it does, apparently.

Maybe, educational unavailability feeds the feelings of frustration and sentiments of relative deprivation that extremists so effectively exploit. Maybe extremists see the pool of unemployed and uneducated young men as a source of low-cost labor and expendable fodder. In either case, over successive generations, it certainly sets the stage for "supply-side" wars in developing countries.

In their World Bank research report titled: Breaking the Waves: Does Education Mediate the
Relationship Between Youth Bulges and Political Violence?
Barakat and Urdal find evidence that large, young male population bulges are more likely to increase the risk of conflict in "low education" societies. High young male population + Low male education >> Increased conflict risk, especially in low and middle-income countries. They conclude that "poor countries do have some leverage over reducing conflict potential through increased educational opportunities for young people."