Median age

A population pyramid, also called an age pyramid or age picture diagram, is a graphical illustration that shows the distribution of various age groups in a population (typically that of a country or region of the world), which forms the shape of a pyramid when the population is growing. It is also used in ecology to determine the overall age distribution of a population; an indication of the reproductive capabilities and likelihood of the continuation of a species.

It typically consists of two back-to-back bar graphs, with the population plotted on the X-axis and age on the Y-axis, one showing the number of males and one showing females in a particular population in five-year age groups (also called cohorts). Males are conventionally shown on the left and females on the right, and they may be measured by raw number or as a percentage of the total population.

Population pyramids are often viewed as the most effective way to graphically depict the age and sex distribution of a population, partly because of the very clear image these pyramids present.[1]

A great deal of information about the population broken down by age and sex can be read from a population pyramid, and this can shed light on the extent of development and other aspects of the population. A population pyramid also tells how many people of each age range live in the area. There tends to be more females than males in the older age groups, due to females' longer life expectancy.

Types of population pyramid

While all countries' population pyramids differ, four general types have been identified by the fertility and mortality rates of a country.

Stable pyramid
A population pyramid showing an unchanging pattern of fertility and mortality.
Stationary pyramid
A population pyramid typical of countries with low fertility and low mortality, very similar to a constrictive pyramid.
Expansive pyramid
A population pyramid that is very wide at the base, indicating high birth and death rates.
Constrictive pyramid
A population pyramid that comes in at the bottom. The population is generally older on average, as the country has long life expectancy, a low death rate, but also a low birth rate. This pyramid is becoming more common, especially when immigrants are factored out, and is a typical pattern for a very developed country, a high level of education, easy access to and incentive to use birth control, good health care, and few negative environmental factors.

Youth bulge

The expansive case was described as youth bulge by Gary Fuller (1995). Gunnar Heinsohn (2003) argues that an excess in especially young adult male population predictably leads to social unrest, war and terrorism, as the "third and fourth sons" that find no prestigious positions in their existing societies rationalize their impetus to compete by religion or political ideology.

Heinsohn claims that most historical periods of social unrest lacking external triggers (such as rapid climatic changes or other catastrophic changes of the environment) and most genocides can be readily explained as a result of a built-up youth bulge, including European colonialism, 20th-century fascism, rise of Communism during the Cold War, and ongoing conflicts such as that in Darfur and terrorism. This factor has been also used to account for the Arab Spring events.[2] Economic recessions, such as the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Late 2000s recession, are also claimed to be explained in part due to a large youth population who cannot find jobs.[2] Youth bulge can be seen as one factor among many in explaining social unrest and uprisings in society.[3]

Youth bulge theory represents one of the most recently developed theories of war and social unrest,[3] and has become highly influential on U.S. foreign policy as two major U.S. proponents of the theory, political scientists Jack Goldstone and Gary Fuller,[4][5] have acted as consultants to the U.S. government.

A large population of adolescents entering the labor force and electorate strains at the seams of the economy and polity, which were designed for smaller populations. This creates unemployment and alienation unless new opportunities are created quickly enough - in which case a 'demographic dividend' accrues because productive workers outweigh young and elderly dependants. Yet the 16-30 age range is associated with risk-taking, especially among males. In general, youth bulges in developing countries are associated with higher unemployment and, as a result, a heightened risk of violence and political instability.[6] For Cincotta and Doces (2011), the transition to more mature age structures is almost a sine qua non for democratization.[7]

Many countries with the largest youth bulge are African nations severely afflicted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has decreased overall lifespan dramatically. As of 2012, the largest youth bulge is found in Zimbabwe, which has a population structure with 56.57% between the ages of 15 and 29.[8]

The Middle East and North Africa

Further information: Demographic trap

The Middle East and North Africa are currently experiencing a prominent youth bulge. Structural changes in service provision, especially health care, beginning in the 1960s created the conditions for a population explosion, which has resulted in a population consisting primarily of younger people. It is estimated that around 65% of the regional population is under the age of 30.[9]

The Middle East has invested more in education, including religious education, than most other regions such that education is available to most young people.[10] However, that education has not led to higher levels of employment, and youth unemployment is currently at 25%, the highest of any single region.[11] Of this 25%, over half are first time entrants into the job market.[12]

The youth bulge in the Middle East and North Africa has been favorably compared to that of East Asia, which harnessed this human capital and saw huge economic growth in recent decades.[13] The youth bulge has been referred to by the Middle East Youth Initiative as a demographic gift, which, if engaged, could fuel regional economic growth and development.[14]

Egypt's socio-economic challenges

The population of Egypt grew from 30,083,419 in 1966[15] to roughly 79,000,000 by 2008.[16] The vast majority of Egyptians live in the limited spaces near the banks of the Nile River, in an area of about 40,000 square kilometers (15,000 sq mi), where the only arable land is found and competing with the need of human habitations. In late 2010, around 40 percent of Egypt's population of just under 80 million lived on the fiscal income equivalent of roughly US$2 per day with a large part of the population relying on subsidised goods.[17]

According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics and other proponents of demographic structural approach (cliodynamics), the basic problem Egypt has is unemployment driven by a demographic youth bulge: with the number of new people entering the job force at about 4% a year, unemployment in Egypt is almost 10 times as high for college graduates as it is for people who have gone through elementary school, particularly educated urban youth, who are precisely those people that were seen out in the streets during 2011 Egyptian revolution.[18][19]

This is in stark contrast to others like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, who are actively trying to engage and utilize their youth bulge, or Algeria and Morocco, which have tried to mitigate the worst effects of a disenfranchised and disillusioned youth.

Uses of population pyramids

Population pyramids can be used to find the number of economic dependents being supported in a particular population. Economic dependents are defined as those under 15 (children who are in full-time education and therefore unable to work) and those over 65 (those who have the option of being retired). In some less developed countries children start work well before the age of 15, and in some developed countries it is common to not start work until 30 (like in the North European countries), and people may work beyond the age of 65, or retire early. Therefore, the definition provides an approximation. In many countries, the government plans the economy in such a way that the working population can support these dependents. This number can be further used to calculate the dependency ratio in that population.

Population pyramids can be used to observe the natural increase, birth, and death rate.

See also


Further reading

  • Gary Fuller, "The Youth Crisis in Middle Eastern Society" (2004) download
  • Gary Fuller, The Demographic Backdrop to Ethnic Conflict: A Geographic Overview, was born in 1989 and was produced by Edward Gewin: The Challenge of Ethnic Conflict to National and International Order in the 1990s, Washington: CIA (RTT 95-10039, October), 151-154.
  • (German)
  • Navtej Dhillon, "Middle East Youth Bulge: Challenge or Opportunity?" (2008) The Brookings Institution
  • "From Oil Boom to Youth Boon: Tapping the Middle East Demographic Gift" (2008) The Brookings Institution
  • Graham Fuller, "The Youth Factor: The New Demographics of the Middle East and the Implications for U.S. Policy" (2003) The Brookings Institution
  • The Security Demographic: Population and Civil Conflict after the Cold War
  • The "Youth Bulge" (
  • The Shape of Things to Come, Why Age Structure Matters To A Safer, More Equitable World
  • Political Demography: identity, conflict and institutions ed. J. A. Goldstone, E. Kaufmann and M. Toft. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Press

External links

  • World Population Prospects, the 2010 Revision, Website of the United Nations Population Division with population pyramids for all countries
  • U.S. Census Bureau, International Statistical Agencies
  • U.S. Census Bureau, International Database (IDB)
  • U.S. Census Bureau, US National Population Projections, Population Pyramids
  • United Nations Data Set Population pyramids from 1950 to 2050
  • Canadian site with animations for different types of pyramids
  • Australian animated population pyramids, Australian Bureau of Statistics
  • Interactive population pyramids of metropolitan France 1901-2060 (INSEE)
  • China, Europe, USA: Population by Age and Sex, 1950-2050. Moving Age Pyramids.
  • US Census Bureau, Population age structure in an interactive Excel dashboard
  • Animation: a different approach to population pyramids using Excel
  • A discussion on population pyramids as a data visualization tool
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