Demography and International Security

October 7, 2010Richard Cincotta joined us to discuss likely demographic implications on international security between now and the next twenty years. Dr. Cincotta is a political demographer who conducts analyses for the U.S. intelligence and defense communities. He contributed to the National Intelligence Council’s most recent global futuring exercise, Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, and to the Geneva Declaration Secretariat’s Global Burden of Armed Violence.

Dr. Cincotta began his presentation by explaining the relationship between demography and modern notions of the nation-state. The world continues to define national identities along its borders, but national identity is challenged by natural demographic shifts that continue to develop and change as they always have done. These shifts can be assessed by death and birth rate data, and by age structure analyses. Age structure analyses offer glimpses into the most basic challenges of development in countries suffering from war, poverty, and un-democratic rule. In countries with higher proportions of infants and youth, it is difficult to expect societies to educate such large numbers of children when there simply aren’t enough adults to teach them. The wide youth bulge in an age structure, with little education and few opportunities in the future, is known as an “arc of instability.” In countries with less societal pressures for high fertility, this “arc of instability” can be overcome by the year 2030. In its place, age structures can fall into a “demographic sweet spot;” the point at which a country’s demography fits into an ideal balance of young and old. A “demographic sweet spot” offers more hope for the possibilities of economic sustainability and a democratic future.

Dr. Cincotta then opened the floor for discussion, and answered questions about literacy, democracy, and their roles in predicting the demographic future of the world. While illiteracy poses many challenges to development, Dr. Cincotta argued that educational attainment as a whole is a more pressing and impactful pursuit. Educational attainment for women, especially, can play a huge role in future age structures. While literacy is an important first step, it does little for women living in these age structures when they cannot continue their education beyond the ability to read and write. Furthermore, age structure transition has been shown to begin with women and their role in reducing family size. Beginning with basic concerns for survival, women set the process for a smaller family size when they address fears of maternal mortality. Women therefore have fewer children, each pregnancy is spaced out with the use of contraceptives, and more women are working outside of home to support the economic responsibilities of their families. A younger demographic also decreases the likelihood of a sustained democracy in a country. With an ideologically naïve and passionate youth constituting a huge proportion of the population, a country can find itself, literally, “too young for democracy.” Dr. Cincotta also answered policy questions concerning the United States’ efforts to remain in its “demographic sweet spot.”

Security for a New Century is a nonpartisan discussion group for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It is not an advocacy venue. For more information, please call Mark Yarnell at (202) 224-7560 or write to [email protected]


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