CNEWA Connections: On the Youth of the World

Every year on 12 August, the United Nations observe International Youth Day. The youth of the planet are its hope, responsibility and challenge. While almost everyone has an opinion on “today’s youth” — running the gamut from hagiographic to cranky — it might be helpful to step back and look at the youth of CNEWA’s world. CNEWA’s world is diverse in the extreme and at first glance the differences between youth in southern India, northern Iraq and Ethiopia might seem so great as to render generalizations useless.

Nevertheless, some statistics might be helpful in situating “youth.” Demographers and sociologists speak of a “median age.” That is the age in any given country at which half the population is older and half the population younger. As such, it is a good place to start in situating you in any given country and society.

If we compare the combined average median age of five “industrialized”countries  (Canada, France, Germany, UK, US) with that of five countries (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Ethiopia, India) where CNEWA works, we note several things.  In the first combined (“industrialized”) grouping the average age for the overall population is 41.9 years (40.5 for males; 43.18 for females). Germany has the highest median age with 47.1 years and the US with the lowest with 38.1. The average combined age for the second grouping, i.e. the countries where CNEWA is active, is 24.6 years (23.7 for males; 24.6 for females). Lebanon has the highest median age in this grouping with 30.5 and Ethiopia the lowest with 17.9 years.

Very broadly speaking, the average median age in “CNEWA countries” is 17 years younger than in the industrialized control group. What might this mean?

Clearly, youth are the future of a country in terms of its workforce, economy etc. Youth, however, also require an investment by a country and society in terms of health care, family life, education and employment opportunities. The ability of a country to make that investment has a great impact positively or negatively on its future. A country that is unable for whatever reason(s) to make the necessary investment in its youth will have great difficulties developing. On the other hand, as is the case in some countries in the Middle East, a country with a large population of educated but unemployed or underemployed young people often experiences them turning radical.

One of the major challenges facing the developed world is the influx of immigrants and refugees. Although there are several “drivers of emigration,” unemployment and lack of economic opportunity are definitely among them. While the reaction of some countries to immigrants has been hostile and xenophobic, it cannot be denied that a large influx of immigrants does put stress on national economies. It is a real challenge that does not seem to have a just and fair solution in the foreseeable future. Young people and young families play an important part of this movement of peoples.

Recently there has been a discussion about the “right to remain.” This is built on the belief that under normal circumstances, people do not want to emigrate and leave their homes. The situation at home has to be bleak for people to uproot themselves and move to a strange and often unwelcoming environment. Young people with no hope of a sustainable future are more likely to seek their fortunes elsewhere. The education, training and meaningful employment of young people is critical — not only to “young” countries with a large population of youths but ultimately to the entire world.

Looking at the demographics of youth on International Youth Day 2020 presents a hope and a challenge. As the developed world gets older, the need to replace workforces will increase. The replacements may very well be there. However, large groups of unemployed or underemployed young people, male and female, can be a powerful force for destabilization in our world.

CNEWA — through its health care, education and youth programs — is trying to address this challenge and to prepare for the future in some of the “youngest” countries in the world.

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