Guest Post by Ragnhild Nordås

Forthcoming in the October issue of AJPS is the article “Fight the Youth: Youth Bulges and State Repression” by Ragnhild Nordås and Christian Davenport.  Ragnhild sends in the following synopsis of the article.

  • Young people are more likely than others to take to the streets to protest, rebel and engage in revolutionary behavior. Governments generally know that and anticipate it. We argue that this is an important explanation for why some states are more repressive (i.e., being more likely to engage in political arrests, torture, disappearances and killing).  In “Fight the Youth: Youth Bulges and State Repression”, we find that governments faced with a population with an exceptionally large youth cohort of 15-24 year olds – a “youth bulge“), are more repressive than other states. These states, we argue, “fight the youth” by eliminating challenges before they even get underway.
  • Our analysis of repression in 154 countries over the years 1976-2000 shows that youth bulges are associated with more state repression and that repression is preemptive. There are higher repression levels in youth bulge countries even in the absence of dissent (e.g., mass protest).  Surprisingly we find the link between youth bulges and state repression not only in autocracies but also in democratic countries.  Both closed and more open political systems tend to increasingly crack down on those under their territorial jurisdiction when faced with a youth bulge.
  • Our study draws attention to the ways in which governments act preemptively to eliminate threats – a fact that has been curiously overlooked in existing studies. Most research is built upon a reactive model where governments are challenged and subsequently ramp up arrests, torture and killing. Our findings identify a strong signal that foreshadows increases in repressive action. Youth bulges, which are quite predictable ahead of time, can warn the international community in terms of where an escalation of human rights violations is likely to occur and where intervention may be warranted.  Where researchers, politicians, advocates, educators, journalists and ordinary citizens look for some insight into when and why government coercion is applied, the fear or rebellion by the youth seems to be an important trigger.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

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