The Youth, Transition, and Conflict in the Middle East and North Africa

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Barakat, Bilal;Paulson, Julia; & Urdal, Henrik (2010) The Youth, Transition, and Conflict in the Middle East and North Africa .

Globally, youth cohorts are shrinking as fertility is declining. This trend applies broadly to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as well as to most other world regions. However, some states in the region, in particular Yemen, Gaza/West Bank, Djibouti and Iraq, will continue to experience very young population structures for several decades.


Extraordinarily large youth cohorts, or ‘youth bulges’, are associated with a greater statistical risk of outbreak of internal armed conflict. This risk is not dictated by demography alone, and is particularly aggravated by low youth opportunities in the form of limited educational prospects, poor employment possibilities, and exclusion from political participation.


Under favorable structural conditions, large youth cohorts may represent a significant labor force reserve that can be a blessing rather than a curse. But this ‘demographic dividend’ cannot happen until fertility declines substantially, reducing the number of economic ‘dependants’ in society. Whether countries manage to realize the dividend further depends on the availability of human and financial capital, the structure of the labor market, and of political stability. In countries with substantially declining fertility, the statistical conflict risk associated with youth bulges is drastically reduced.


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