Age-structure and Intra-state Conflict: More or Less Than We Imagined?

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Are younger countries at higher risk of civil conflict? The International Crisis Group’s 2018 list of 10 conflicts to watch suggests they might be: Like last year, intra-state conflicts (civil and ethnic conflicts within states, rather than wars between states) dominate the list, and among those, about 70 percent are within youthful countries, or states with a median age of 25.5 years or
younger. The only multi-state cluster mentioned in both 2017 and 2018 lists is the Sahel, the world’s most youthful region.

However, recent studies indicate that population youthfulness can be a less reliable and more unruly predictor than its proponents (including me) initially perceived. Three key factors complicate the relationship between age structure and intra-state conflict: conflict type (civil or territorial); conflict history; and conflict spillover (the cross-border spread of insurgencies among contiguous clusters of youthful countries).

Figure. The proportions of three age-structural groups (youthful, intermediate, mature) in intra-state conflict, 1972 to 2016.



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