martes, 22 de febrero de 2011
Artículo no. 7 Why the worldâ€™s youth is in a revolting state of mind
By Martin Wolf
Published: February 18 2011 19:42 | Last updated: February 18 2011 19:42
In Tunisia and Egypt, the young are rebelling against old rulers. In Britain, they are in revolt against tuition fees. What do these young people have in common? They are suffering, albeit in different ways, from what David Willetts, the UK governmentâ€™s minister of higher education, called the â€œpinchâ€ in a book published last year.
In some countries, the challenge is an excess of young people; in others, it is that the young are too few. But where the young outnumber the old, they can hope to secure a better fate through the ballot box. Where the old outnumber the young, they can use the ballot box to their advantage, instead. In both cases, powerful destabilising forces are at work, bringing opportunity to some and disappointment to others.
Demography is destiny. Humanity is in the grip of three profound transformations: first, a far greater proportion of children reaches adulthood; second, women have far fewer children; and, third, adults live far longer. These changes are now working through the world, in sequence. The impact of the first has been to raise the proportion of the population that is young. The impact of the second is the reverse, decreasing the proportion of young people. The third, in turn, increases the proportion of the population that is very old. The impact of the entire process is first to expand the population and, later on, to shrink it once again.
Contrast Egypt and the UK. Back in 1954, British life expectancy was 70 and the proportion of children dying between the ages of zero and five was 30 per 1,000. In the same year, an Egyptian could expect to live to 44, while infant mortality was a horrifying 353 per 1,000. Fast-forward to 2009: UK life expectancy was up to 80 and its infant mortality down to 5.5 per 1,000. But Egyptian life expectancy was up to 70 and its infant mortality down to 21; an astonishing transformation. The figures for the number of children per woman over these years are just as dramatic, falling from 2.3 to 1.8 in the UK, and 6.5 to 2.8 in Egypt. In Iran it has fallen even further, from 7.0 to 1.8. Religion simply does not determine fertility.
These are revolutionary changes, and ones that are happening far faster in developing countries than in the old advanced countries. Above all, these are happy developments: people are freed from fear of premature death; parents are freed from watching their children die young; and women are freed from endless childbirth.
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Such great changes always bring huge social upheavals. Many developing countries are in the early stages of the demographic transition. This means they have more young adults than they might have expected; as recently as 1985 Egyptian mothers still had an average of six children. High-income countries, meanwhile, are entering the final stage of this transition. Their baby-boomers are ageing, with fewer young adults to support them.
In 2011, half of Egyptâ€™s population will be under 25, while 36 per cent will be aged from 15 to 35. These latter are angry young adults looking desperately for employment, in order at least to hope for normal family life. Meanwhile in the UK, where female fertility has been close to two for much longer, only 31 per cent are under 25, but 35 per cent over 50 (against only 15 per cent in Egypt).
Thus, the middle-aged and elderly rig political and economic life for their benefit in the UK: hence the way in which policies on housing or education finance are weighted against the young. In Egypt, the young could easily outvote the elderly. Hence the urgency of the forces behind a democratic revolution that should transfer more power into their hands. Egypt is not the first developing country, nor will it be the last, to be rocked by the youthful majority, at one and the same time idealistic and frustrated.
This, too, will pass. On current trends, the Egypt of 2040 is going to look rather more like the UK of today. According to the US census bureau, 26 per cent of the population will be over 50. But the UK will have moved onwards, as well: 41 per cent of its people could be over 50.
The future is grey. In todayâ€™s high-income countries, it will be very grey. Indeed, some advanced countries could be older than the UK: Italy is forecast to have 50 per cent of its people over 50 by 2040, with as many as 9 per cent over 80.
As Shakespeareâ€™s Miranda might say in response: Oh brave old world! That has such ancients in it!
For the countries with a young population, the immediate challenge is to create a dynamic economy that brings hope of gainful employment. It is surely the failure to do this that most threatens rule by gerontocrats such as Hosni Mubarak. The Chinese leadership is well aware of this imperative. Rulers with resource wealth can try to buy off their young. Those without it cannot. They must at least offer jobs. If they fail, they will lose power â€“ and rightly so. The political challenge is to harness the energy of their young, without succumbing to the catastrophes that hit high-income countries at a similar demographic stage: war, first and foremost.
Meanwhile, in high-income countries, older people must work longer than they expected, without making the young believe their opportunities are blocked for what must seem like an eternity. These countries must also balance the fiscal books as the populations age.
In both cases, the young will raise a cry that has surely been heard throughout the ages: â€œIt is not fair.â€ They are right, no doubt. It never is. But they should remember that the young will win in the end. It is only a matter of time â€“ just more of it.
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