The Shape of Things to Come: Why Age Structure Matters To a Safer, More Equitable World

Elizabeth Leahy is a Reseach Assistant at Population Action International (PAI) and lead author of "The Shape of Things to Come: Why Age Structure Matters To a Safer, More Equitable World" which is being released today.

As the lead author of PAI's new report "The Shape of Things to Come: Why Age Structure Matters to a Safer, More Equitable World," I was interested to read Eesha Pandit's recent blog post about an article profiling the report appearing last week in The New York Times. I am glad that Ms. Pandit is considering the complexities of the linkages between youthful populations and civil conflict. However, she based her analysis on a single news article that covered one aspect of what is a complex, multi-faceted piece.

The report aims to provide valuable new insights into the programs and investments that can make countries "healthier"—more peaceful, more democratic, and better able to provide for the needs of their citizens. Far from "scapegoating young people…for the problems of developing nations," youth are a tremendous asset for any society, especially if they are educated, healthy, and living in a safe and equitable world. PAI's report shows why investments in programs that respond to their needs are so important.

"The Shape of Things to Come" does not propose a direct causal relationship between demographics and civil instability, but does find that it is an important element of a country's development. However, demography is not destiny. Government capacity, policies and political commitment matter more than absolute numbers. Countries willing to make investments in family planning and reproductive health and rights, infant and maternal health, and education and economic opportunities for girls, women and young people can vastly change the shape of things to come.

On page 79 of our report, we write that,

The education of children and employment of young adults are the foundation of a country's development. A country may be less vulnerable to political instability when young men perceive that the government is working to improve their employment opportunities and to overcome economic barriers to starting a family. Governments are better able to meet those expectations when demographic conditions such as balanced age structure support a focus on the young.

I encourage Ms. Pandit and all of RH Reality Check's readers to take the time to read our report, available online at

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  • scott-swenson

    Thanks to PAI, especially Elizabeth Leahy, and RH Reality Check’s weekly writer Eesha Pandit for bringing us a range of perspective on this important topic today. PAI’s report is an important read, as are the several perspectives that Eesha identified in her piece, written after reading PAI’s full report and the coverage of it, and bringing her own perspective to the issue based on those sources.

    RH Reality Check provides a platform for community wide discussion of these and other important issues and encourages dialog such as the one we feature today with these two pieces running next to each other.