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 13th (it will be out in January 2020), 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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Friday, January 28, 2011

Are Demographics Involved in the Egyptian Turmoil?

David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times, who has been lead reporter on the stories of the new revolutions in Arab states, has pointed out that the street demonstrations in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt appear to have erupted among young people, and may be more secular in origin than necessarily being related to any specific influence from the Muslim Brotherhood, although the Muslim Brotherhood seems clearly to becoming more involved. As in Tunisia, social networking on the (now-disconnected) internet was an important means of spreading the message. But does this mean that demographic trends played a specific role?

I think that the answer to this question has to be 'yes.' When Hosni Mubarak assumed the Egyptian presidency in 1981, following the assassination of Anwar El-Sadat, the population of Egypt was 45 million and the average woman was bearing 5.5 children. Mubarak, like El-Sadat, Mubarak was generally in favor of family planning among married women and under his 30 years of rule, the total fertility has dropped to 2.8--albeit still well above the replacement level. However, the relative slowness of that decline, accompanied as it was by a rapid drop in infant mortality, has meant that the population of young people has grown enormously. As of this year, 52 percent of all Egyptians are under the age of 25, and one in five is between the ages of 15-24--the ages of many of those out in the streets demonstrating against the government. When Mubarak took office, there were 9 million youth aged 15-24, and now there are 17 million, according to data from the UN Population Division. That's a lot of people to be dissatisfied with the difficulty of finding jobs, paying the bills, and saving money to marry and raise a family. To be sure, the mere presence of this large youth population would not, on its own, spark a revolution. But it was dry tinder waiting for the spark, which seemed to have been lit in Tunisia.

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