"An Elderly World Will Be More Peaceful."
Not necessarily. Some strategists, such as scholar Mark L. Haas, speak of a coming "geriatric peace." Here's the argument: In a world of single-child families, popular resistance to military conscription should grow, as tolerance of military casualties falls. The rising cost of pensions and health care should also make sustaining military buildups increasingly difficult. Societies dominated by middle-age and older citizens may also become more risk-averse, more preoccupied with practical, domestic concerns like crime and retirement security, and less driven by adherence to violent ideologies. Japan is often held up as an example of a country that has grown more stable and peaceful as it has aged. Western Europe was wracked by domestic unrest when its vaunted "Generation of '68" was still young, but as these postwar baby boomers aged and produced few children, the political and social agendas of Europe became far less radical.
But there are some problems with this rosy scenario. To start, even countries that are rapidly aging can, paradoxically, produce youth bulges with all the attendant social consequences, from more violence to economic dislocation. Consider Iran. By 2020, the number of 15- to 24-year-old Iranians will have shrunk by 34 percent since 2005, according to the U.N. Population Division. This largely reflects the sharp downturn in the Iranian economy that occurred after its 1979 revolution, as well as the clerical regime's embrace of contraception. But from 2020 to 2035, the number will again swell by 34 percent, even if birth rates continue to decline. Why? A very high proportion of Iranian women are now of childbearing age, which means that even though young Iranian women are having far fewer children than their mothers did -- indeed, not enough to sustain the population over time -- their numbers are still sufficient to create a temporary "echo boom."
Many other Muslim countries, from Libya to Pakistan, will experience similarly huge oscillations in their youth populations. Most of the Central Asian republics, too, will face large echo booms in the 2020s. Long a battlefield for larger powers from the Mongols and Persians to the Russians and British, these newly independent states are once again the object of geopolitical competition due to their natural gas and oil reserves. The same is true of two of Latin America's most volatile countries, Peru and Venezuela.
This isn't just a numbers game. As the darkest recent chapters of European history suggest, the point of transition from growth to demographic decline can be an unsettling and dangerous one. Fascist ideology in Europe was deeply informed by Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West, Lothrop Stoddard's The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, and the writings of other eugenicists obsessed with the demographic decline of "Aryans."
Now, just as the horrors of fascism are passing from living memory, a new generation of Europeans is again feeling demographically besieged, this time by the arrival of Muslim immigrants. Fear of demographic decline also fuels the resurgence of Hindu nationalism in India, and it contributes to the backlash in the United States against immigrants and the controversy around the building of the "Ground Zero mosque" near the site of the 9/11 tragedy.
Over the next few decades, not only will echo booms be producing youth bulges in many of the world's trouble spots, but much of the developed world's population will be passing into advanced old age. It's a recipe for maximum demographic danger, Neil Howe and Richard Jackson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies warn. If you think the teenies are looking ugly, watch out for the 2020s.