In an article in Prospect Magazine, David Willets MP (yes, I know!) develops a speculative argument from the stunning statistic that, of the 25 countries with the youngest populations, 16 have experienced major civil conflict since 1995. (By comparison, among countries with the oldest populations, only Croatia has been involved in conflict in the last 15 years.)
The median age in Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan is between 15 and 19. I assume Willets wouldn’t ignore the very different geopolitical factors — often external — that have catalysed unrest in these countries, but he implies that a kind of Lord of the Flies effect can kick in when the proportion of teenagers to adults exceeds a certain ‘tipping point’.
Europe as a whole tends towards the opposite problem: an ageing population may make for calcified social structures. But Willets suggests that the radically different age distribution in deprived UK housing estates, where adults are generally a minority, is likely to be a factor in the problems of social control these estates experience.
It’s tempting, even if not logically valid, to continue down Willets’ road of extending this correlation to other social micro-cultures. Since his article is so non-partisan, it is unkind — but still irresistible — to reflect that the median age of Conservative Party members is over 55. No unrest there, then. I wonder how the median age of, say, Virgin Records’ staff has changed over the last 30 years, and how one might relate this to their output.
The median age in Britain is 37.7, which means that most of the population is now younger than me. More than half of this country hadn’t been born when Bob Dylan stopped singing protest songs and encouraging social unrest.
Another article in October’s Prospect cites Martin Amis’s remark that when you reach the end of your thirties, “you realise that you are switching from saying ‘Hi’ to saying ‘Bye.'” Good night!