8 Rules of Age-structural Political Demography

In a world rapidly churning out unpredictable political shocks, intelligence analysts occasionally need to clear their heads of the daily barrage of newsworthy events and instead work with simple theories that discern the direction and speed of trends and help predict their outcomes. Political demography, the study of population age structures and their relationships to political trends and events, has helped some analysts predict geopolitical changes in a world that, from time to time, appears utterly chaotic.

Much of my recent work has focused on democratic transitions and age structure – that is, what the median age of a country can tell us about its propensity to become a “liberal democracy” or remain either undemocratic (without free, fair, and politically meaningful elections) or illiberal (short on civil liberties and rule of law). There is, in fact, a strong correlation in recent history between increasing median age and increasing liberal democracy, and vice versa (the younger a population is, the less likely it is to be a liberal democracy). These and other age-structural relationships have become so evident over the past three decades of research, that political demographers can now identify “rules” that link demographic characteristics to expected political outcomes.

For the rest of this essay, go to The 8 Rules (also posted on the New Security Beat) … and see the 7 regional tables at this site. Download an Excel Workbook of tables here.


Majority – Minority Ethnodemographic Differences

Minority Youth Bulges and State Stability


Read about Ethnodemographic Differences and majority-minority relations (first posted in The New Security Beat, 2012).  Since its appearance, this two-by-two model of sub-state demographic differences has been increasingly used as a means of spotting escalating ethnic tensions and warning of future armed conflicts.

Read an application of the model (Barnhart et al., 2015, “The Refugee Crisis in the Levant”); and others by Rachel Blomquist on Myanmar’s Rohingya conflict (Fall, 2016; Spring, 2016).



Figure 1. Two-by-two sub-state model of majority-minority relations, based on the age structural configurations of the majority and a politically organized minority population. Where there is no external interference, the “demographic integration” condition is hypothesized to be the most politically stable.




The Beginning of History: Advanced Aging and the Liberalness of Democracy

Read “The Beginning of History: Advanced Aging and the Liberalness of Democracy” by Richard Cincotta, originally published in the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 blog in August, 2012.

Are the combined effects of population aging and immigration powerful enough to place at risk the liberal content of Europe’s democratic regimes? In this essay I’ve argue that it could; that today’s confident clusters of European and East Asian liberal democracies (states rated as “FREE” in Freedom House’s annual survey) will, as they age beyond the median age of 45 years, incur greater risks of losing elements of the political rights and civil liberties that previous generations of their citizens and political leaders worked hard to attain.

Download “The Beginning of History” here …



Will Tunisia’s Democracy Survive? A View from Political Demography

View the article, Will Tunisia’s Democracy Survive? A View from Political Demography, originally published on The New Security Beat.

What chance does Tunisia’s democracy have of withstanding the formidable challenges that periodically arise? Surprisingly, a good chance, according to recent research in political demography, a field that is focused on a limited yet robust set of relationships between demography and political outcomes.

Read the rest of “Will Tunisia’s Democracy Survive?” A View from Political Demography” here …  

Spillover Conditions

Conditions for Spillover Conflicts

Intra-state conflicts that spillover into adjacent states, and sometimes across the region, tend to occur under similar demographic conditions.  First of all, the state where the original intra-state conflict begins is typically has a youthful population (median age less than 25.5 years). Secondly, the adjacent states to which the conflict spreads are also youthful. Thus, expansion is typically confined to pairs and clusters of youthful states. Examples include: Pakistan-Afghanistan (Taliban, ISIS and Al Qaida-affiliated groups); Iraq-Syria (ISIS); the Sahel (ISIS, Al Qaida in the Maghreb, Boko Haram); Uganda-DRC-Rwanda-Burundi (Lord’s Resistance Army, FDLR, M23); Somalia-Ethopia (Ogaden)-Kenya (northeast counties).

While the ease and low cost of recruitment of young men likely plays a part in the vulnerability of youthful states to the spread of these conflicts, clearly demography is not a direct cause. However, the geography of spillover conflicts is striking in that the armed conflicts characteristically stop at frontiers of countries with more mature populations (e.g., in the intermediate phase).  For example, ISIS has not made very little headway into Lebanon, Turkey or Iran in the Middle East, or into Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco in the Maghreb.

From the perspective of political demography, the lengthy, contiguous youthfulness of the Sahel region leaves it highly vulnerable to the spread of conflict. For the past two decades, the political and demographic cleavage has been growing between Nigeria’s Muslim north and mostly Christian south. In 2011, I spoke in several venues on the Sahel and warned of a spill over conflict emerging from Nigeria’s northern states, and published the following, previous to the growth and territorial expansion of the Boko Haram insurgency (R. Cincotta, “Africa’s Reluctant Fertility Transition“, Current History, May 2011, 184-190).

And if the region breeds militancy, elements of the state may encourage regional leaders to use their groups’ militancy to or to take their anger elsewhere—that is, to spill over into the surrounding region, or further. This is not a pretty picture, and it could be the dead end street into which Nigeria is heading. Nigeria’s 2008 Demographic and Health Survey estimated that, on average, Nigerian women bear 5.7 children. All evidence of a fertility decline comes from the country’s Christian-majority south, whereas across the Muslim north, fertility remains above 7 per woman. The adoption of Islamic law a decade ago by the 12 northern states provides a clue to the deteriorating reach of the Nigerian state and the politicization of Islam. However, the most salient threat to national and West African stability may be the chronic youthfulness of Nigeria’s population (now topping 160 million and growing by leaps and bounds), coupled with the government’s inability to keep up with jobs, education, health care, or infrastructure, despite windfall petroleum profits. (pp. 188-89)

Beyond the danger to the stability of Sahelian states themselves, spreading conflict in the western Sahel presents two external challenges. It threatens the religiously diverse states of coastal west Africa with insurgency and urban violence. In the Maghreb, to the Sahel’s north, the expansion of conflict is likely to stimulate refugees flows into the southern cities of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco–and perhaps beyond.