The radical ‘protestor’ archetype is a university student in their early twenties with plenty of changes in mind that they would like to make to the status quo, and plenty of strength and drive should force or demonstration be needed to enforce a revolutionary view.  One struggles more to imagine large groups of married middle aged ‘radicals’.  It makes sense that as society moves towards a higher proportion of older people that it becomes less radical both socially and politically.

History makes clear that ‘youth bulges’ can set the stage for revolution. Iran was in the midst of a youth bulge before its 1979 revolution, when young people took to the streets and helped to bring down the monarchy in favour of a violently anti-American theocracy.  Iran is a country which has pushed against the Western world and internal revolutionary groups have struggled for control. 

A recent article in The Economist makes some interesting observations about the effect of demographic change on current Iranian society and on politics in general.  More and more of Iran’s population are now entering middle age, and that is changing the country’s culture and its politics.  Oliver August writes:

After the revolution the birth rate soared, but as Iranians became more prosperous and educated it started falling and eventually dropped below pre-revolution levels. The size of the population has doubled since the 1980s but the number of births has halved. There are no reliable figures, but experts put it at 1.6-1.9 children per woman, broadly in line with European rates. In neighbouring Iraq it is 3.5. The calming impact on politics is unmistakable. The largest age bracket now is 25- to 29-year-olds. Soon most of them will be married and lose interest in street protests.

…Ten-storey-high murals showing martyred fighters still stare down from the façades of prominent buildings, but Iranians are generally fed up with mass mobilisation and indoctrination, and most of them prize individualism above public duty. The death-loving idealism of the past has become a minority interest.

As a result of both this and wider education, Western society is ebbing closer to the day-to-day life of the Iranian people and even anti-American feeling has waned (not that all aspects of Western culture are good of course):

In their daily lives they are now surrounded by Western consumer goods, computer games, beauty ideals, gender roles and many other influences. Iranian culture has not disappeared, but the traditional society envisaged by the fathers of the revolution is receding ever further.

Will we see current Muslim radicalism recede as Muslim societies, which have previously experienced ‘youth bulges’ in the 1960’s, 70s and 80s, age along with the rest of the world?   One hopes so.  There isn’t a day that goes by that IS isn’t in the news for some horrifying act it seems.  There aren’t too many positives for family life and for global economies from the international trend towards non-replacement birth rates and an aging global population.  However, if indeed there are less youth attracted to violent ideologies, it might be a silver lining in the Muslim world.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...