Demographic Study

Demographics, the study of populations, is all about data. A demographic study collects population data and identify relationships between it and what is happening in the world. Predictions based on these relationships are often made and solutions to problems that are population-related are put forth. An example of this are connections that have been made between large pockets of young populations and political uprisings.

The Younger the Population, the More Likely a Revolt

In his book Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet, Jeffrey Sachs discusses hundreds of relationships between the population of the world and the future of people on earth. Among these relationships, he describes how revolts in countries are more likely to occur when the population of the country has a high (e.g., over 30%) population of young adults (roughly ages 15-29) as compared to children and older adults. Other factors, such as the type of government and access to natural resources, play a part in what actually occurs, but statistical studies show that there is a connection between a “bulge” in the young adult population and the likelihood of an uprising against the government. Such uprisings can present world security threats, so analyzing population trends in countries can aid in trying to avoid these revolts.

A Middle East Study

The idea that a youth bulge presents a security threat is the theoretical perspective of a study published in 2012 by Droogan, Guthrie and Williams. In this report, they present their findings on the factors that led to the popular uprisings in the Middle East in 2011, in an effort to predict whether similar uprisings could occur in the islands located north of Australia. As stated above and as the authors of this study indicate, there are numerous factors that underlie any social action, including political uprisings. In terms of population growth, the authors give the examples of Tunisia, Lybia and Egypt, each of whose population doubled or tripled over the 40 years before the 2011 uprisings in those Middle Eastern countries. This population explosion, followed by lower birth rates, led to the “youth bulge” in these and other Middle East countries.

Australia Uprisings?

In looking at seven island nations north of the Australian continent, the authors analyzed historical population data that focused on population growth, literacy rates and fertility rates. However, they also, significantly, looked at factors that might alleviate the tensions that the “youth bulge” produces. The nations in the study – Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Vanuata, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Indonesian Papua – all had significant population growth and, therefore have experienced a youth bulge. Along with declining fertility rates (which reduces the younger population), increased literacy (giving youth access to information and views in contrast to what established governments want them to know) and the breakdown of traditional family patterns (a loosening of control by parents), these nations have and continue to experience the conditions ripe for the types of uprisings seen in the Middle East.

But to get a real sense of whether these uprisings will occur to the extent that they did in the Middle East, the Droogan, Guthrie and Williams study examined other factors that might mitigate the likelihood that youth will rebel to such a high degree. The factors they considered included.

  • Emigration: While education levels have risen, employment on these islands has not always kept pace. But unemployment (which often leads to great civil unrest) is not as high as it might be because people can leave the islands and move to larger countries, including Australia and New Zealand, for jobs.
  • Geography: Unlike the Middle Eastern countries that share borders, the northern Australian island nations are separated by swaths of ocean. In addition, the island nations do not share a common language or religion.
  • Communication channels: Cell phone and internet access is much less common on the Australian islands than in the Middle East. This means that communication is much slower to the islands and the citizens are less likely to know about the “ideas and political events” that occur elsewhere in the world.
  • Population and urbanization: While the island countries have grown, their populations are still relatively small (under one million) except for two countries (Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste). In addition, these nations are very rural, so population density – another factor that leads to unrest – is low.

So Much More to Demographics

Demographics is an unending field that relies on constant collection and analysis of data. The world is always changing, so studying populations is a never-ending process for demographers. To better understand demographics, you may want to consider pursuing a degree in data science.


Reference: Droogan, J., Guthrie, K., & Williams, V. (Winter 2012). Popular uprising in the Southwest Pacific? A demographic study. The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies37(4),468-532.