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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Monday, November 28, 2016

Is Demography Connected to the Colombian Peace Deal?

A new peace deal was signed in Colombia a few days ago between the government and the FARC rebel group. As BBC News notes, "The deal is aimed at ending five decades of armed conflict, which has killed more than 260,000 people and left millions internally displaced." That's a lot of deaths, to be sure, but 50 years ago Colombia had a population of 19 million, and today it has 48 million. Fifty years ago, the average woman was having 6.2 children each and today she is having 1.8 each. Fifty years ago, almost 60 percent of the population was under age 20, and today it is down to one-third. In other words, Colombia is a very different country today than it was 50 years ago, and demographic change is front and center in the country's transition.

I thought about these things this week as I read an interesting research article just published in Demographic Research by Ewa Batyra, a demography PhD student at the London School of Economics. Her focus was on the change in timing of childbearing in Colombia as a way of helping to understand the dramatic drop in fertility over time in that country. Her analysis is largely based on the 2010 Demographic and Health Survey in Colombia, at which time fertility had dropped to just replacement level. It has since dipped below replacement level. Why? As is true throughout much of the world, education is a key. The better educated a woman is, the later she is to start childbearing or, if she had a child early (as is still frustratingly common throughout parts of Latin America), the more likely she is to delay the second one.

So, in the 50 years since FARC got going, the excess supply of unemployed young men has diminished, and men and women have been staying in school longer, leading to new perspectives on life, including perspectives on family and, almost certainly, on the value of rebellion and illegal activity. Over those years, the per person gross national income (in current US dollars) has risen from $300 per year to $7,130, according to World Bank data. 

You might well say that correlation is not causation and that I am ignoring a lot of the messiness associated with the peace deal, but I would argue that Colombia's way forward (and it is definitely forward) is grounded thoroughly in the demographics of reduced family size and a heightened status of women. The need for rebellion is gone, and it was time to make peace. 

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