Size Matters: The Problem with the Population of Generation Y

Yesterday, I provided two big statistics on the swelling population of this emerging generation of young people around the world. First, nearly half the world’s population is age 25 or younger. Second, when a population of youth bulges beyond 30%, violence tends to follow. It’s happening now worldwide. Today, 66 countries fit the criteria and 60 of those countries are in civil strife.

The U.S. has been involved in Iraq for years now. It provides a sobering case study. Like many of its neighbors, nearly half of the population in Iraq is under 18-years-old. According to Iraq’s Ministry of Education, 70% of elementary school kids are no longer attending classes regularly. Hassan Ali, a sociologist at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs says, “These children will come to believe in the principles of force and violence. There’s no question that society as a whole is going to feel the effects in the future…” This generation of kids in that part of the world is growing up unemployed, undereducated, traumatized, and among boys, in particular, ripe for vengeful appeals of militias and insurgent groups. According to Newsweek magazine (January 22, 2007), it isn’t only the Iraqi kids either. From the Middle East to Europe to America, violence may well beget violence around the world for years to come. French scholar, Gilles Kepel, author of Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam, warns that many of these young people, raised on anger and fear, are potentially rebels without clear causes. “What will their jihads become?” he asks. “Are they going to grow up to kill each other, or will they turn their weapons against the West?”

Very often we blame the poor conditions of such countries in conflict. Not so. For example, in El Salvador, the explosion of political killing in the 1970s and 80s was preceded by a 27% rise in per capita income. The problem is, rather, that in a youth-bulge society, there are not enough positions to provide all these young men with prestige and standing. They want to be known for something. In America during the 1960s, college campuses were scenes of demonstrations and riots that often ended in violence. The issue wasn’t poverty — the U.S. was experiencing a healthy economy. So what was it about? No doubt there were a variety of reasons, but one that’s often overlooked is the Baby Boomers were coming of age. We had a youth bulge. Young people long to find expression. They want to make a difference… and they will… whatever that means.

Globally speaking, it appears this next generation will provide a clash between optimism and nihilism. Students from high technology nations, full of optimism plan to give their lives to improve the world’s conditions. Yet, there are young people — especially from terrorist countries — giving their life up in order to take the lives of others. They are the ultimate in nihilism.

Here’s my point. If we’re serious about transforming the world, we have to be serious about investing in this next generation. Here’s my question: What are you willing to sacrifice to invest in them? What we do today as adults, will no doubt determine who they will become as adults.


Size Matters: The Problem with the Population of Generation Y