"Population and Conflict": Join the Discussion

ECSP Report 11 Authors Comment on Demographic Links to Security

Apr 01, 2006

Join the Discussion: Add a Comment

Scholars and policymakers alike focus most of their attention on proximate sources of violent conflict, giving short shrift to underlying, obscured, or complex causes. The Environmental Change and Security Program has historically offered a place for debating less prominent explanations and for examining conflict's causal roots. In that vein, ECSP Report 11 invited five scholars to summarize their current research on the links between conflict and four key factors: density, age structure, sex ratio, and differential population growth. These commentaries, which seek to help non-experts navigate this complex territory, offer recommendations for policymakers and programmers working to prevent conflict and stabilize population growth.

  • Henrik Urdal, who co-edited the July 2005 Journal of Peace Research issue devoted to the demography of conflict, presents his research's surprising conclusion: at the national level, population growth, land scarcity, and urbanization do not have a great influence on patterns of ar and peace, with a few exceptions. He encourages further research to explore the exceptions he found and suggests that subnational data might reveal the effects of local population pressure on conflict.

  • The CIA's National Intelligence Council (NIC) recently cited "youth bulge"—a large percentage of youth in a population—as one ingredient in a "perfect storm for internal conflict in certain regions." While the connection between youth and conflict is commonly accepted, Sarah Staveteig, finds a more subtle measure of age structure can effectively predict insurgent-based civil wars. By studying the future relative cohort size—the difference in the number of young adults versus the number of older working adults—policymakers could develop policies to reduce the chances of such conflicts.

  • The NIC's report also expressed concern about the destabilizing effects of the pervasive "son preference" in Asian countries—-notably China and India—-that has produced a shortfall of an estimated 90 million women. Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer summarize their groundbreaking research into this troubling phenomenon and its impact on the likelihood of conflict. They warn policymakers that gender imbalances will affect the democratic potential of these countries: "In many ways, a society's prospects for democracy and peace are diminished in step with the devaluation of daughters."

  • Ethnicity carries much of the popular blame for recent conflicts, a point echoed by the NIC. But little sustained research has explored how demographic shifts contribute to violence. Monica Duffy Toft explores why differential population growth has not garnered the scholarly attention it deserves, and warns that without government and academic efforts to improve the reliability and availability of data on these shifts, aid and intervention strategies may continue to be counterproductive or destructive.

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