Global Policy Forum

Age Structure and the Failed States Index

Population Action International
July 2007

Each year, Foreign Policy Magazine's Failed States Index uses twelve political, economic, military and social indicators of instability to rank the countries most likely to "fail." This year, PAI compared the countries Foreign Policy considers most vulnerable and those most stable with PAI's own categories of age structure from its landmark publication, The Shape of Things to Come: Why Age Structure Matters to a Safer, More Equitable World.

The results are remarkable. As expected, the vulnerability of countries, according to the Failed States Index, rises with successively younger age structures. Unfortunately, this linkage can be misinterpreted to imply that young people, in and of themselves, are a security threat. On the contrary, youth are a tremendous asset for any society.

The Shape of Things to Come places national populations into one of four major types of age structures: very young, young, transitional and mature. Each structure has its own inherent challenges and successes in economic, political and social development.

Countries with very young and youthful age structures face great challenges, but also great potential, to their development and security. When education, healthcare and employment are available, young people renew and revitalize a country's economy and institutions. Without access to these social services, however, countries with a large proportion of young people have historically been the most volatile and vulnerable to conflict.

As they reach a more balanced population, countries in the transitional category stand to experience significant benefits from demographic change and are much less vulnerable to civil conflict and undemocratic governance. At the end of the demographic transition (the transformation of a population characterized by large families and short lives into a population of small families and long lives), countries with a mature age structure have generally been the most stable, democratic and highly developed.

The Failed States Index classifies countries, from most vulnerable to most stable, in five categories: critical, in danger, borderline, stable and most stable. By comparing this categorization with the respective age structures of these nations, PAI found:

. 51% of countries with a very young age structure are ranked as critical or in danger by the Failed States Index. All others are borderline; no countries with a very young age structure are ranked as stable or most stable.
. 73% of countries with a youthful age structure are borderline. Of the remaining, 16% are critical or in danger, and 12% are stable. None are most stable.
. 64% of countries with a transitional structure are borderline. 23% are stable, and 13% are critical or in danger.
. Finally, 73% of countries with a mature structure are stable or most stable. Interestingly, every single country ranked as most stable also has a mature age structure. The remainder are borderline. No countries with a mature structure are ranked critical or in danger.

This relationship between age structure and a country's potential for "failure" provides a new dimension to the Failed States Index. The more policymakers know about what diminishes a country's stability, the better able they are to design and implement policies that can prevent conflict and promote human security. Progress along the demographic transition can improve countries' stability and economic and social development. These policies include improving access to family planning and sexual and reproductive health care and rights, investments in the well-being of young people, education for girls and economic opportunities for women.

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