Breaking the Waves? Does Education Mediate the Relationship Between Youth Bulges and Political Violence?

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Barakat, Bilal; & Henrik Urdal (2009) Breaking the Waves? Does Education Mediate the Relationship Between Youth Bulges and Political Violence?, Policy Research Working Paper, 114. Washington, DC: The World Bank.

Much of the developing world has experienced a decline in mortality, while fertility often has remained high. This has produced youthful populations in many countries, generally referred to as “youth bulges.” Recent empirical research suggests that youth bulges may be associated with increased risks of political violence and conflict. This paper addresses ways that education may serve as a strategy to reduce the risk of political

violence, particularly in the context of large cohorts of young males. The authors use a new education dataset measuring educational attainment. The dataset is constructed using demographic back-projection techniques, and offers uninterrupted time-series data for 120 countries. The empirical analysis finds evidence that large, young male population bulges are more likely to increase the risk of conflict in societies where

male secondary education is low. The effect on conflict risk by low education and large youth populations is particularly strong in low and middle-income countries. This is especially challenging for Sub-Saharan Africa, the region facing the youngest age structure and the lowest educational attainment levels. Although quantitative studies generally find a strong relationship between

indicators of development and conflict risk, the results suggest that poor countries do have some leverage over reducing conflict potential through increased educational opportunities for young people. There is further evidence that the interaction of large youth cohorts and low education levels may be mediated by structural economic factors. The study supports broad policy interventions in education by relaxing concerns about the consequences of rapid educational expansion.

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