Leaving Out the Youth: The Effect of the End of the Demographic Transition
By Fiorenzo Conte
One of the previous posts on Do No Harm discussed the role played by the youth bulge in triggering the Arab Spring. Faced with high rates of unemployment despite high educational achievements and widespread corruption, young people flooded the streets to protest against nepotistic practices of the political class and to claim their rights to become economically independent. One of the main factors that accounts for the success of the protests is the sheer number of young people present in each of these countries. Take the example of Egypt and you will see that the youth had the demographic weight to impose their requests. When however the demographic transition approaches its last stage – i.e. low mortality associated with fertility rate at a replacement level – the population pyramid changes its shape dramatically. The case of Italy shows where sooner or later all countries of the world are heading to – i.e. an aging population. And the changing shape of the population pyramid has fundamental implications for society.
Similar to the countries in the Maghreb and Middle East, the youth in Italy is economically marginalized when compared to other age sections of the population. As Alesina and Giavazzi explain on the Corriere della Sera, amongst the young people between 16 and 24 years only 1 in 4 has a job in Italy compared to 1 in 2 in other European countries. Furthermore, when we compare the unemployment rate amongst young people (16-24 years) to that of the adult population (25-64) we find that for every adult unemployed there are 4 young unemployed. This unemployment ratio of 4 is more stunning if put against the backdrop of other countries such as Germany where it is 1,4. These situation has been created by a complex mix of misconceived governmental policies, which tended to protect those who already have a job (the adults), thus making more difficult for the youth to enter the job market.
If demographic forces have not contributed to the creation of this situation they account considerably for its persistence and stickiness. Any sensible proposals to reform this sclerotic system faces in fact an enormous challenge: the average elector in Italy is increasingly old. This demographic factor implies that any reform of the job market that requires sacrifices from the adults is unlikely to be pushed forth by political parties and trade unions, whose survival depends on their (old) electorate. As young people make up just a minority of the Italian population their claims and needs do not constitute a political priority.
In sum, if the population structure played out in favor of young people in the Maghreb countries, it plays against young people in Italy. Another reminder of how the demographic trends are shaping the modern world.