Population by age and revolution

age and riots

An astonishing thing took place during the last 250 years (starting with the 18th century) – the sexual maturation of children has speeded up; it takes place 4 years earlier than the normal period. This observation was made on the ground of a pretty macabre argument – presently, the death rate curve among boys appears four years earlier than in the past centuries.

The high mortality at this age is an indicator of risky behavior, determined by hormonal restructuring of the body. In other words, currently children mature on a sexual level much faster and get involved earlier on in highly hazardous activities, including acts of aggression. “Being 18 years old today is like being 22 in 1800”, the authors of the hypothesis explain [1] [Goldstein, 2011].

A little later on, another study showed that boys from nowadays sexually mature from 6 to 24 months (depending on the race and ethnicity) earlier than the boys from a couple of decades ago [Herman-Giddens et al., 2012]; it is probably due to the environmental factors and the food, which induce a speeding up of the hormonal processes [2]. And the sexual maturation of girls takes place earlier on, as compared to previous generations. At the age of 7-8 years, their breasts already start to develop and some secondary sexual characteristics appear; the scientists talk about the age of “new puberty.” However, although girls are more developed on a physical and sexual level, they are still children on the emotional and intellectual one [3].

It is curious the fact that, along with accelerated puberty, the phenomenon of prolonged adolescence has also been noticed – when young people psychologically mature only upon reaching the age of approximately 30 years. If, around 1970, the boys from the Occident married at about 24 years old, and girls at 22, then, four decades later, the average age of marriages has raised up to 32 and respectively, 30 years [4]. Therefore, an “infantilization of society” takes place – children become adolescents too quickly, adolescents mature later on and, accordingly, more and more individuals are classified as adolescents, their behavioral models become more representative and, thus, the factors of adolescent and young influences raise on a social level [5], [6].

If things are as said, then we can expect an increasing of cases of violence committed by young men, not a decreasing of them. And if we take into consideration the demographical trend on a global level, we could correlate these changes to a “rejuvenation” of social uprisings in a close-up future. Therefore, the presence of a high number of adolescents and young people in a nation represents a premise for the apparition of violent conflicts and wars. In an article about global demographical changes, the Russian economist and sociologist Anatoly Vishnevsky claims that a big group of young people in a population is like a hotbed that could easily burst into flames, especially if it’s being catalyzed by some attractive ideology. He uses the example of Romania in 1989: “There are paradoxical cases: at his time, Ceaushescu (romanian leader) forbidded abortion and the country’s birth rate quickly increased. But after this generation had grown up, they executed Ceaushescu” [7]. Similar phenomena happened and will happen in other countries too.

In a research that studied collective interstate and intrastate conflicts for a period of 30 years, starting with the 60s of the 20th century, was found the existence of a positive correlation between the high percentage of young males, with their age comprised between 15 and 29 years, at the population level and the frequency and the intensity of violent conflicts that took place; characteristics that are typical for all human societies. Examples of some contemporary states were brought into attention (like El Salvador), in which the high number of young men directly correlate to the high degree of violence in society. The authors conclude that, practically speaking, the composition of male’s population by years in a state can be looked upon as an ecological/demographical factor that influences the tendency of the respective population towards either peace, or conflicts [Mesquida, Wiener, 1996, 1999].

The truthfulness of such prognostics, that forecast the appearance of social violence in states with many young people, has become obvious once the so-called “Arab spring” broke out – a series of revolutions in some countries in North Africa and Middle East. Moreover, the social explosions in Tunis, Egypt, Libya and Syria weren’t a surprise for the American demographer Richard Cincotta from the Stimson analytical center, which has predicted major political reforms in this states since February 2008, in an article published in “Foreign Policy” [8].

Cincotta has studied the revolutions that took place from 1972 to 1989, in correlation with the structure of population’s age, and has found out a couple of curious socio-political realities, which allow him to make precise forecasts. From among the studies countries, the autocratic countries with a population that has an average age of 25-35 years have had the biggest chances of becoming, through revolution, democratic states. However, only those states whose average age was above 30 years old managed to maintain their democracy. 9 out of 10 states where the average age was lower than 25 years old have come back to despotic governing regimes. And in the states where the average age is above 35 years old, revolutions didn’t even take place (the society lacks dynamism).

According to Cincotta, the average age is one of the most accurate indicators in forecasting the socio-political phenomenon and we could expect, during the next decade, revolutions in such countries as Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, as well as in countries situated south of Sahara, where the average age of population is lower than 20 years. The general conclusion is that in states that have a high percentage of young men, it is higher the risk of an outbreak of mass violence, caused by different frustrations that would have been peacefully settled in an older population; and the average age that makes the difference between those two conditions is around 25 years [9], [Cincotta, Doces, 2012]. We could therefore speak about some kind of a “physiology of revolutions”, age being the main factor and indicator. There are indeed a close correlation between age and revolution.

In the diagram below the average age of population from three countries with a different socio-political status is presented: an autoritarist-semi-anarhical state (Afghanistan), a semi-democratic (Egypt) and a democratic one (Germany). The correlation between the average age of population and the countries status is clearly seen; the more the number of young people, the more the premises for social instability, but also for authoritarianism.

age and revolution

Source: http://www.newscientist.com/articleimages/mg21428653.800/1-egypt-arab-spring-could-be-wasted-in-youthful-nations.html

Among the researchers in the field of social sciences, the phenomenon of demographical growth and the high percentage of young men in a society (aka “young bulge”) are currently certainly associated with the high level of conflicts in different countries and regions of the world. In default of assumed social responsibility and of working places, being under the burden of economic hardship and positioned at the base of hierarchical ladder, the young men become extremely predisposed towards enrolling in criminal groups, in radical political organizations and in revolutionary movements.

According to a report presented by the Population Action International Organization (who has its headquarters in Washington), between 1970 and 1999, 80% of civil conflicts took place in countries where 60% of population had the average age under 30 years. These data are similar to the sociological results described in the above paragraphs.

Presently, in over 60 countries from around the world, young men represent the majority of the population, and in almost every one of these countries violent social revolutions took place; numerous countries from sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Asia and Pacific islands are part of the risk group. According to statistical data from 2013, from over 7.3 billion people on the Earth, 44% are below 24 years old, and 26% are even younger than 14 years old. The global average age is approximately 29 years (as compared to 41 years in Europe). This potential of young force bears in itself the promise of the progress, as well as the danger of the outbreak of extremism and social disorder [10].

Often, it is next to impossible to stop the outburst of violence by socio-economical means, because the rate of sociological development and of economic growth do not keep pace with the demographical momentum. In countries from Latin America, for example, the waves of violence have whittled away by means of mutual annihilation of rival bands, or as the young men matured and calmed down on a behavioral level[11].

In 1995, American psychologist David Lykken, who has studied antisocial personalities, wrote that two-thirds of all crimes in society could be prevented by cryogenically freezing all males aged 12 to 28 [Lykken, p. 93, 1995/2013]. Beyond dystopian nature of this exercise of imagination, he reveals decisive role and impact that teenagers and young men have in generating violent and antisocial actions.

Starting with these statistics and correlations, the researcher of demographical trends, Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba from Rhodes College (Tennessee), thinks that a number of countries with a demographical growth from the 3rd World (especially from Africa) will face, in the next twenty years, important internal socio-political earthquakes, due to the high birth rate and an continuous increase in young people’s number. In these countries, a critical mass of young people will amass. They will endeavor to overcome the social and economic frustrations through mass revolts and will attempt to change the political regimes [Sciubba, 2010].

By the way, in Rwanda, before the beginning of the genocide from 1994, an explosive growth of young unmarried people that live with their parents, were searching for a working place and have accumulated a high degree of social frustration has been recorded; they represented a highly susceptible human material for calls to ethnical hatred that is being operated by politic elites [Даймонд, 2008, p. 443, 448].

In days to come, there will be less working places in the world as compared to the number of young people fit for work – a situation that would change into a “demographical bomb”, into a source of social and political instability not only on regional level, but also on a global one [12].


© Dorian Furtună, ethologist


Photo: Bil’in Riot, Jan 2011 / Flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/idfonline/5332846971

1. Пубертат как смертельная болезнь // Илья Колмановский. Snob.ru. 20 сен 2011 / http://www.snob.ru/selected/entry/40975
2. Boys — like girls — hitting puberty earlier // by Jacque Wilson. CNN. October 23, 2012 / http://edition.cnn.com/2012/10/20/health/boys-early-puberty/index.html
3. How Girls Are Developing Earlier In An Age Of ‘New Puberty’ // NPR.org. December 02, 2014 / http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/12/02/367811777/how-girls-are-developing-earlier-in-an-age-of-new-puberty?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=202602
4. Generation who refuse to grow up: No mortgage. No marriage. No children. No career plan. Like so many 30-somethings, Marianne Power admits she’s one of them… // by Marianne Power. Daily Mail. 20 July 2012 /
5. Trashing Teens. Psychologist Robert Epstein argues in a provocative book, “The Case Against Adolescence,” that teens are far more competent than we assume, and most of their problems stem from restrictions placed on them // by Hara Estroff Marano. Psychology Today. March 01, 2007 / http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200703/trashing-teens
6. Постподростковость: почему люди между 20 и 30 не хотят взрослеть // «Компания Афиша». 24 марта 2014 / http://gorod.afisha.ru/people/postpodrostkovost-pochemu-lyudi-mezhdu-20-i-30-ne-hotyat-vzroslet/?utm_source=gazeta&utm_content=afisha&utm_medium=240&utm_campaign=cross_promo
7. Анатолий Вишневский: Размножение человечества вышло из-под контроля // Анна Натитник. Harvard Business Review – Россия. Октябрь 2014 / http://hbr-russia.ru/biznes-i-obshchestvo/fenomeny/a14618/##ixzz3FO501Vpd
8. How Democracies Grow Up. Countries with too many young people may not have a fighting chance at freedom // by Richard P. Cincotta. Foreign Policy. February 19, 2008 / http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2008/02/19/how_democracies_grow_up
9. Life Begins After 25: Demography and the Societal Timing of the Arab Spring // By Richard Cincotta. Foreign Policy Research Institute. January 2012 / http://www.fpri.org/enotes/2012/201201.cincotta.demography_arabspring.html#ref3
10. Is Youth Bulge a Crucial Determinant of Stability? // by Katherine Carter. Fund for Peace. October 10, 2013
/ http://blog.fundforpeace.org/blog-20131007-youthbulge
11. The Effects of ‘Youth Bulge’ on Civil Conflicts // by Lionel Beehner. Council on Foreign Relations. April 27, 2007 / http://www.cfr.org/world/effects-youth-bulge-civil-conflicts/p13093
12. Youth Bulge: A Demographic Dividend or a Demographic Bomb in Developing Countries? // by Justin Yifu Lin. The World Bank Group. 01/05/2012 / https://blogs.worldbank.org/developmenttalk/youth-bulge-a-demographic-dividend-or-a-demographic-bomb-in-developing-countries

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• Даймонд Дж. Коллапс. Почему одни общества выживают, а другие умирают. Москва. АСТ. 2008. 762 с.