This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

The New Middle East?

The cover story in this week's Economist is about the death of Syria as we know it. The country has a complex history and incorporates considerable demographic diversity, at least in terms of ethnicity and religious differences. But it does seem that the current conflagration was largely unexpected and the world is pretty much sitting around watching it happen. The problem, of course, is that Syria's neighbors don't have that luxury. A story in today's New York Times details the incredible flood of refugees that Lebanon (whose government has been trying to keep a low profile) is trying to cope with.
Lebanon’s refugee crisis does not match the familiar image of vast, centralized tent camps and armies of foreign aid organizations. It is nowhere, and everywhere. Displaced Syrians seem to fill every nook and cranny: half-finished cinder block houses, stables, crowded apartments.
What really makes refugees politically radioactive is a painful national memory. Palestinians poured into Lebanon in 1948 and 1967, fleeing conflicts with Israel. Their arrival stoked sectarian divisions that helped ignite civil war. More than 400,000 Palestinians still live here, in camps with pockets of poverty and extremism where violence periodically erupts.
The Economist has the following assessment about the demographic impact thus far:
So far the fighting has claimed 70,000 or more lives; tens of thousands are missing. The regime has locked up 150,000-200,000 people. More than 2m are homeless inside Syria, struggling to find food and shelter. Almost 1m more are living in squalor over the border.
At this point it is impossible to tell how this will play out, but it seems reasonable to expect that the demographics of the region, not just the politics, will be permanently altered by all of this.


  1. This is a troublesome development. Both Lebanon and Jordan are experiencing instability as the huge number of refugees continues to grow. Civil wars last, on average, six years. Even if Al Assad falls, the civil war will continue as the FSA struggles against the Islamist Victory Front (Jabhat al Nusra) for control.

    I am curious to know if there are any well-established demographics trends related to civil wars.

    1. Good question--a quick Google search didn't turn up much. The obvious answer is that Civil Wars are most likely to occur in countries with religious/ethnic divisions that can boil over (certainly true in Syria) and the effects are virtually always outmigration (refugees), and excess deaths. We can typically anticipate that the birth rate will be temporarily depressed by the uncertainty of the situation, but will likely rebound at least somewhat when hostilities end.

  2. Will the Lebanese put the Syrians in prison camps and keep them there for sixty years like they did to the Palestinians? (who are still not allowed to be naturalized, to move out, to choose any occupation they want and so on).

  3. Is there any information out there on what percentage of refugees eventually return (on average)? I mean, once the civil war is over, whenever that may be. For example, one Iraq sort of became stable again a number of Iraqis went back, but of course not all of them.