The Devil in the Demographics: The Effect of Youth Bulges on Domestic Armed Conflict, 1950-2000

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Urdal, Henrik (2004) The Devil in the Demographics: The Effect of Youth Bulges on Domestic Armed Conflict, 1950-2000, Social Development Papers. Washington, DC.

It has been suggested that large youth cohorts, so called ‘youth bulges’, make countries more unstable in general, and thus more susceptible to armed conflict. In the present study this notion is put to an empirical test. The paper explores possible links between youth bulges and violent conflict theoretically and attempts to model under what conditions and in what kind of contexts youth bulges can cause armed conflict. The research hypotheses are tested in an event history statistical model covering a high number of countries and politically dependent areas over the period 1950–2000. The study finds robust support for the hypothesis that youth bulges increase the risk of domestic armed conflict, and especially so under conditions of economic stagnation. Moreover, the lack of support for the youth bulge hypothesis in recent World Bank studies is found to arise from a serious weakness in the youth bulge measure employed by World Bank researchers. The author finds no evidence for the claim made by Samuel P. Huntington that youth bulges above a certain ‘critical level’ make countries especially prone to conflict. The study, however, provides evidence that the combination of youth bulges and poor economic performance can be explosive. This is bad news for regions that currently exhibit both features, often in coexistence with intermediary and unstable political regimes, in particular Sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab world. In addition to economic performance, a key factor that affects the conflict potential of youth bulges is the opportunity for migration. Migration works as a safety valve for youth discontent. Download data from:


Henrik Urdal

Henrik Urdal