How Demographics Drive Politics in Democracies

By the Woodrow Wilson Center, Special for US Daily Review.

As World Population Day approaches, Wilson Center consultant and demographer Elizabeth Leahy Madsen says the Arab Spring demonstrates that countries with very young age structures are prone both to higher incidence of civil conflict and undemocratic governance. “Among the five countries where revolt took root, those with the earliest success in ousting autocratic leaders also had the most mature age structures and the least youthful populations,” she writes on the New Security Beat. What happens next in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria will further test the connection between youth and democracy discovered by fellow Wilson Center consulting demographer Richard Cincotta.

In South Asia, Madsen finds that as Afghanistan and Pakistan’s political circumstances have become more entwined, their demographic paths are more closely parallel than expected. “For Afghanistan, given its myriad socioeconomic, political, cultural, and geographic challenges, this is good news. But for Pakistan, where efforts to meet family planning needs have fallen short of capacity, it is not,” she writes in the first issue of the newly relaunched ECSP Report, “Afghanistan, Against the Odds: A Demographic Surprise.”

Other top population issues to watch:

  • New commitments to family planning: An international summit in London on July 11, co-hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK’s Department for International Development and supported by USAID and UNFPA, may produce financial commitments toward meeting a new and ambitious goal of generating $4 billion to fund contraceptives for 120 million women in developing countries by 2020.
  • Changing fertility rates in Africa: Contraceptive use over the past five years is growing much faster than the regional average in EthiopiaMalawi, and Rwanda, leading to declining fertility rates. However, contraceptive use in other countries, including Mozambique, Senegal, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, are declining or showing only modest increases.
  • Revised global population projections: The 2013 revision of the World Population Prospects will provide a new global population prediction for 2050. This figure can vary dramatically: If the global fertility rate changes by 0.5 children per woman in either direction, the total population could be more than one billion higher or lower in 2050.

Since 1994, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) has actively pursued the connections between the environment, health, population, development, conflict, and security. ECSP brings together scholars, policymakers, the media, and practitioners through events, research, publications, multimedia content (audio and video), and our award-winning blog, New Security Beat. The Environmental Change and Security Program Report 14 is the latest volume of ECSP’s flagship publication. Published since 1996, ECSP Report is now an online series of policy briefs. 

The Wilson Center provides a strictly nonpartisan space for the worlds of policymaking and scholarship to interact. By conducting relevant and timely research and promoting dialogue from all perspectives, it works to address the critical current and emerging challenges confronting the United States and the world.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.

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