The Shape of Things to Come: Why Age Structure Matters To a Safer, More Equitable World

Elizabeth Leahy

Elizabeth Leahy is a Reseach Assistant at Population Action International (PAI) and lead author of "The Shape of Things to Come: Why Age Structure Matters To a Safer, More Equitable World" which is being released today.


As the lead author of PAI's new report "The Shape of Things to Come: Why Age Structure Matters to a Safer, More Equitable World," I was interested to read Eesha Pandit's recent blog post about an article profiling the report appearing last week in The New York Times. I am glad that Ms. Pandit is considering the complexities of the linkages between youthful populations and civil conflict. However, she based her analysis on a single news article that covered one aspect of what is a complex, multi-faceted piece.

The report aims to provide valuable new insights into the programs and investments that can make countries "healthier"—more peaceful, more democratic, and better able to provide for the needs of their citizens. Far from "scapegoating young people...for the problems of developing nations," youth are a tremendous asset for any society, especially if they are educated, healthy, and living in a safe and equitable world. PAI's report shows why investments in programs that respond to their needs are so important.

Elizabeth Leahy is a Reseach Assistant at Population Action International (PAI) and lead author of "The Shape of Things to Come: Why Age Structure Matters To a Safer, More Equitable World" which is being released today.

As the lead author of PAI's new report "The Shape of Things to Come: Why Age Structure Matters to a Safer, More Equitable World," I was interested to read Eesha Pandit's recent blog post about an article profiling the report appearing last week in The New York Times. I am glad that Ms. Pandit is considering the complexities of the linkages between youthful populations and civil conflict. However, she based her analysis on a single news article that covered one aspect of what is a complex, multi-faceted piece.

The report aims to provide valuable new insights into the programs and investments that can make countries "healthier"—more peaceful, more democratic, and better able to provide for the needs of their citizens. Far from "scapegoating young people…for the problems of developing nations," youth are a tremendous asset for any society, especially if they are educated, healthy, and living in a safe and equitable world. PAI's report shows why investments in programs that respond to their needs are so important.

"The Shape of Things to Come" does not propose a direct causal relationship between demographics and civil instability, but does find that it is an important element of a country's development. However, demography is not destiny. Government capacity, policies and political commitment matter more than absolute numbers. Countries willing to make investments in family planning and reproductive health and rights, infant and maternal health, and education and economic opportunities for girls, women and young people can vastly change the shape of things to come.

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On page 79 of our report, we write that,

The education of children and employment of young adults are the foundation of a country's development. A country may be less vulnerable to political instability when young men perceive that the government is working to improve their employment opportunities and to overcome economic barriers to starting a family. Governments are better able to meet those expectations when demographic conditions such as balanced age structure support a focus on the young.

I encourage Ms. Pandit and all of Rewire's readers to take the time to read our report, available online at www.populationaction.org/SOTC.

Population, Family Planning and Presidential Priorities

Jeffrey Locke

Family planning is recognized in public health as a crucial element in improving the health of mother and child. In light of the economic crisis, will international family planning programs be a financial priority for America's next President?

Over the last week, the American people
and financial markets around the world watched as Congress debated an
eye-popping $700 billion dollar economic rescue for the American economy. 
Lost amidst the media’s coverage of the rescue plan was another Congressional
decision – to punt to the next President and new Congress tough decisions
on funding for most FY 2009 government programs, including foreign assistance. 

As World Watch Institute’s latest magazine issue
"Population Forum"

illustrates, concerted foreign assistance that emphasizes international
family planning programs is going to be required to address the nexus
of population issues that have emerged – environmental degradation,
climate change, as well as poverty, security and the health of women
and children.  However, having worked in Togo, West Africa, an
area of the world where hundreds of thousands of women already fail
to have their family planning needs met, I’m left to wonder:
if the next Administration turns away from our obligations overseas,
will foreign assistance and developing world women be the first casualties
of the economic downturn?

This past week I attended a presentation
at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars that highlighted
the launching of
"Population Forum."  Featuring remarks by Robert Engelman,
Vice President for Programs at World Watch Institute; Thomas Prugh, editor of World Watch Institute;
Sean Peoples of the Woodrow Wilson Center; and PAI’s own Vice President of Research,
Karen Hardee; the event provided a forum to discuss the magazine’s
focus on population and why issues such as population growth, age structure
and youth bulges have become increasingly relevant to environmental
issues.

Already prominent in discussions within
national security circles (as demonstrated by PAI’s own Shape of Things to Come), demographic characteristics have now become
salient for how environmental organizations approach environmental degradation,
and efforts to mitigate global climate change.  World Watch magazine
editor Thomas Prugh, in acknowledging that "the planet faces a range of grave and
interlinked challenges"

that harbor serious consequences for ignoring population issues, left
this question to policymakers: "What should be the response by the
developed world?"

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Over the last four decades, one of
the responses by the U.S. Congress has been to provide funding for voluntary
family planning programs overseas – which have succeeded in reducing
average fertility rates among developing world married women from about
six children per woman to three children.  This success is despite
a downward trend since 1995 in funding – nearly
$100 million — a 39 percent reduction (when adjusted for inflation)
that coincides with President Bush withholding
nearly $200 million in funding for the United Nations Population
Fund
and his Administration’s implementation of
the Global Gag Rule in 2001
.

Fortunately, this past July the U.S.
House and Senate Appropriations Committees proposed historic funding increases for these crucial programs, and acknowledged
the role that high rate of population growth plays in contributing to "competition for limited resources, environmental
degradation, malnutrition, poverty and conflict."
  While Congress was unable to enact these
funding increases in time for the new fiscal year on October 1, the continuing resolution passed ensures that Federal agencies and programs
will continue to operate at current levels – possibly until the foreign
assistance priorities of the next President are revealed – which, as
my colleague Craig Lasher notes, "matters greatly." 

These priorities will have a direct
bearing on over 200 million women in the developing
world
, who already want
to space or limit their childbearing but live without modern contraception. 
Having lived among some of these women who lack access to contraception
in Togo, West Africa, a country that has lacked a steady USAID presence
for years, I’ve seen what can happen to women in the developing world
if either Presidential nominee decides to turn away from family planning
programs. 

I’ve seen scores of women seeking
contraception, with their babies strapped to their backs, waiting in
my village’s health clinic from 6 a.m. until nightfall, only to have
to return the next day or the day after that, to procure elusive contraception. 
I’ve seen girls left off the rolls of school enrollment, married off
as children and twice pregnant by 15.  I’ve seen large numbers
of young males lacking opportunity – lacking an adequate education
to get a job, lacking sufficient land to farm, angry at their government
for change – migrating from Togo to feed their young and growing families.

The situation for women and families
in Togo and in much of the developing world represents the stark choice
in foreign assistance priorities for the next President:  does
the U.S. expand family planning programs into nations
that have high rates of unmet contraceptive need
, or does the U.S. scale back family planning
assistance, as the U.S. has done
with serious consequences in the Philippines

and Kenya

For Republican Presidential nominee
John McCain, his recent debate with Senator Barack Obama highlighted
his belief to cut spending and institute a "spending freeze" on programs deemed not vital – leaving
only entitlement, Veterans Affairs and defense programs unfrozen. 
Prior to the debate however, Senator McCain stated that a McCain-Palin Administration would give priority
to efforts to improve maternal and child health

As family planning is recognized in public health as a crucial element
(along with health clinic access and obstetric care) in improving the health of the mother and child – would international family planning programs
be spared from Senator McCain’s proposed spending freeze?

At the same debate with Senator McCain,
Senator Obama stated that due to the financial crisis, as President
he would have to prioritize and "eliminate programs that don’t work
and make sure programs we do have are more efficient and cost less."
Senator Obama went on to acknowledge that "there are some programs that
are very important that are underfunded."

Will U.S. international family planning programs qualify as a program
that an Obama-Biden Administration would find additional resources for?

Despite decades of success in creating healthier
families and a healthier planet
,
we in the SR/RH and environmental communities are now left to wait and
see whether international family planning programs meet the foreign
assistance and funding priorities of the next President.  As my
Togolese brethren would say, "On verra" – we will see. 

Demographic Security and the CIA

Elizabeth Leahy

CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden recently identified population growth as one of three top destabilizing trends currently facing the world.

CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden’s recent identification of
population growth
as one of three top destabilizing trends currently facing the
world has received extensive media coverage. The director’s comments seem to
have taken many by surprise by singling out demographic trends, rather than
religious extremism or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as
meriting a top spot on the intelligence community’s radar screen.

Speaking in the Landon Lecture Series at Kansas State
University, the same forum where Secretary of Defense Robert Gates last fall
advocated for increasing the use of "soft power," Gen. Hayden highlighted the
challenges
that will be faced by some of the poorest and weakest states in the
world-among them Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and
Yemen-in providing for the needs of their citizens, particularly young people,
in the coming years. The populations of these countries are projected to double
and in some cases triple by mid-century, magnifying already heavy demands on
health care, education facilities and the job market.

PAI and others have been studying the connections between
demographics and security for a number of years. Our 2007 report The Shape of Things to Come: Why Population
Age Structure Matters to a Safer, More Equitable World
found that 80
percent of all outbreaks of civil conflict between 1970 and 1999 occurred in
countries in which at least 60 percent of the population was younger than age
30. These linkages are complex, and PAI does not posit a direct cause and
effect relationship between youthful age structures and political instability.
However, as Gen. Hayden discussed in his speech, population trends can
exacerbate the underlying factors that contribute to conflict and strife, as
well as poverty and inequity.

For these reasons, we at PAI were heartened to see Gen.
Hayden’s recognition of the importance of demographics to a comprehensive
assessment of broader trends in security and development. However, absent from
his speech was a discussion of the policies that affect population trends,
which are very dynamic. Progress toward more balanced age structures occurs
when health care improves, leading to lower mortality rates and longer life
expectancies, and when fertility rates fall, which happens when women and men
have access to the services needed to choose their own family size. Chief among
these are rights-based reproductive health care and family planning programs.
In countries as diverse as Mexico and Tunisia where these comprehensive
programs have been made available, infant mortality and fertility rates today
are roughly one-third of their 1975 levels while life expectancies have
increased by at least a decade.

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Unfortunately, funding for and access to these services is
still very limited in many parts of the world. Although Gen. Hayden did not
cite it in his speech, Uganda is one of the countries whose population is
projected to triple by 2050-and this assumes that women will be having fewer
than three children on average, dropping from nearly seven children per woman
today. However, recent survey data reveal that 41 percent of women of
reproductive age in Uganda have an unmet need for family planning, one of the
highest levels in the world. Meanwhile, the annual U.S. contribution to
international family planning programs lags far behind global needs. If Gen.
Hayden and other government officials are serious about viewing population as a
factor in international security, their response should start with better
funding and policies for family planning and reproductive health.

This article originally appeared at the Population Action International Blog.