Monday, June 2, 2014

Why a Convention on the Rights of Older People now?

The second article of my global aging advocacy project is out now in the International Journal of Human Rights

The aged remain one of the few vulnerable groups without formalized protection in their own covenant. Attempts to secure a UN declaration on older persons’ rights in 1948, 1991, and 1999 failed to gain traction, but the most recent attempt to launch a campaign has garnered support from civil society and a large group of states. What explains the traction of the rights frame during the most recent campaign? Through interviews, observation, and qualitative analysis of key documents, I argue that norm diffusion from Latin America to the international level and from the debate and passage of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006 drove the timing and, to some degree, the salience, of the contemporary CROP campaign and that states’ interests and incentives, which have shifted as population ageing has intensified, mainly explain their support or resistance. The findings increase our understanding of agenda-setting in social movements and at the UN, and of the broader political implications of global population ageing. The findings also indicate that the proposed convention faces significant hurdles and is unlikely to be passed in the near future. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Framing and Power in Aging Advocacy

My new article on global advocacy for older people is out in the journal Social Movement Studies. I hope this is the first of many articles on this fascinating topic. If we really expect that population aging will lead older people to take over politics, then shouldn't we already see the influence global advocacy groups?

Abstract: The number of groups advocating on behalf of older people, their activities, and their influence suggests that a transnational advocacy network around aging is emerging, but there have been no attempts to study how dense this network is, nor how power is distributed within it. Through collective action frame analysis, this article explores whether organizations advocating on behalf of older people represent the variety of global aging experiences in both developed and less developed contexts. The analysis relies on four types of evidence: documentary; survey; interview; and observation. Advocacy groups employ a number of diagnostic, prognostic, and motivational frames. The findings support arguments in the literature that diverse collective action frames can be more of an asset than a liability because they increase the network’s reach and resonance with multiple stakeholders. Although the aging advocacy network is not very dense, it is becoming denser because of rise of the human rights master frame and the rally for a UN Convention on the Rights of Older People. The frame empowers the network to use its diversity to its advantage, since individual organizations can work for whatever piece of the human rights frame matches best with their organization’s mandate. There are still major power imbalances within the network, however. While it is growing more inclusive of voices from less developed countries, global civil society remains a space for organizations with resources, which those organizations based in poorer countries simply do not have. 


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Is population aging really so bad?

I have a chapter in the excellent new edited book, Political Demography: Identity, Institutions, and Conflict. In it I argue that the absence of a theoretical framework within which to structure discussion of population aging has led scholars to underestimate the role of the state in mediating the effects of population. There are plentiful descriptions of military and fiscal constraints aging will bring, but little consideration of how policies are made, how states affect the global political environment, and how the geopolitical environment affects states. Power transition theory--which looks at multiple elements of population, plus productivity and political capacity--can help identify several points of leverage states can use to play the demographic cards they’ve been dealt.

Demography and Instability in the Developing World

I have a new article out in the Spring 2012 issue of Orbis journal. Here's the abstract: Demography provides a framework for analyzing the effect of population on national security and a tool to assess how demographic trends in the developing world will influence conflict over the next twenty years. Population is connected to national security as an indicator of challenge and opportunity, a multiplier of conflict and progress, and a resource for power and prosperity. This indicator-multiplier-resource framework is then applied to the three influential demographic issues of the developing world: (1) youthful populations; (2) transitional age structures; and (3) urbanization. These diverse demographic trends reveal a growing divergence among states in the developing world and the need to continue to plan for the spectrum of warfare, though there will be an increasing number of supportive and capable states.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Interview with Zunia.org on population and development

Jennifer Sciubba Discusses Population and International Development

Zunia: What are some demographic trends international development organizations need to take into account as they develop their future plans and strategies?

Sciubba: One of the biggest challenges to economic growth will continue to be large, young, and growing populations. A large number of youthful dependents strains individual family resources--diverting time that could be spent on paid labor--and strains the educational system at the societal level. An even bigger challenge, though, is creating jobs for large cohorts of youth entering working ages. Development organizations should also be mindful of the relationship between a youthful age structure and civil conflict, and the challenges civil conflict poses to development. For example, countries mired in civil conflict have a hard time attracting foreign investment. Forty-six percent of Afghanistan's population is under the age of 15, meaning that the country has decades of challenges ahead.

Zunia: You mention in your book that one of the most important trends during the next several decades will be the growing divide in age structure between the aging industrialized great powers and the youthful industrializing powers. About 98 percent of the growth in world population during the next several decades will take place in less developed countries. What are some of the implications of this divide?

Sciubba: On an international level, it is likely that global power will become more diffuse as the aging, industrialized states face declining economic growth (or no growth) and the accompanying expense of paying for and staffing a large and strong military. Those countries in the demographic “sweet spot,” those with relatively larger numbers of working age compared to elderly dependents, are already demanding a greater role in international politics. States like China, Brazil, and India have a growing capacity to help with global peace and development efforts, and are seeking a greater role in these endeavors. I think global institutions are going to have to reform to be more inclusive of these rising powers, or run the risk of becoming irrelevant.

Zunia: We have seen a wave of protests in North Africa and the Middle East recently. In many of these countries half or more of the population is below 30. Is there a link between a youthful age structure and conflict?

Sciubba: There is a correlation between youthful age structures and outbreak of conflict, and for some researchers the protests in North Africa and the Middle East were no surprise given the high proportion of young adults. Within political demography, though, I think we have some ground to cover with causation. Our theories tell us a bit about why these protests are happening, particularly those theories that look at the importance of economic exclusion and lack of political expression. The age structures of the countries where protests have broken out are somewhat varied, and so obviously demography is not the only dynamic at play. For policy makers to use the findings of political demography we need to do a better job of creating replicable research and robust theories those policy makers can use to project the likelihood of larger trends in conflict and democracy. In other words, we have a long way to go in understanding the role demography has played in those conflicts.

Zunia: What are some challenges and opportunities presented by the growing urbanization trends worldwide?

Sciubba: There is a tendency to view all demographic trends as inherently negative, probably because it is more interesting, but urbanization has created many opportunities for access to health care, education, and jobs. The world is now more than 50 percent urban (though the definition of “urban” is not perhaps what we all would think of) and will only grow more urban over the next several decades. Urban areas are generally the most prosperous areas in a country and so this should be a welcome trend. Of course, sometimes the pace of urban growth is faster than the government’s ability to accommodate the population influx, and poor planning has resulted in slums in many developing countries. This is a big challenge for developing countries, but one that they are working on and making strides in. Brazil and India, as just two examples, are seeing major turnarounds in some of their slum areas. The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan shows us another challenge of urbanization. Urbanization concentrates wealth, physical assets, and people, and thus makes these areas vulnerable to destruction by natural means, or by deliberate attack.

Zunia: How can governments and civil society help to shape the effects of demographic change?

Sciubba: In military circles, the role of government in demographic change is a sensitive subject. I still think it is still a worthwhile subject to discuss because the places of greatest interest to the US—and arguably the international community—are those with very high total fertility rates. Given the connection between young age structures and civil conflict, governments and civil society should turn their attention to non-military, long-term solutions like family planning. Unmet need for family planning is as high as 215 million women worldwide. As mentioned, 46 percent of Afghanistan’s population is under the age of 15, and establishing peace and stable governance there will be difficult for the foreseeable future. Education and access to contraception will help change the age structure and open opportunities for youth over the long run.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Specter of 7 Billion: Should We Be Scared?

The UN announced this week that the world will welcome its seven billionth inhabitant on Halloween this year. A world of seven billion was unthinkable a century ago, when total world population was about as big as India is today. I was sitting in a Chinese history class in college the day world population hit 6 billion. This occasion is seared into my memory because my professor delivered the news while wearing a black armband to mark what she saw as the travesty of world population growth. After her lecture, I left class thinking there wasn’t room for one more person, yet here we are just over a decade later with another billion.

What I’ve come to realize in the interim is that although this number is astounding, how many people are on the planet is far less important for issues of development and conflict than where and who these people are. Meaning, where population growth and decline is concentrated—either at the country level or within states—and the level of education, religion, age, or other identity characteristics of individuals are the real links between demography and political, social, or economic outcomes.

Where
One place where population growth is central to development and security is Afghanistan. The median age in Afghanistan is only 16 years and each woman on average has about 6 children in her lifetime. These numbers mean that over 46 percent of Afghanistan’s population is under the age of 15. As the US plots its exit strategy for Afghanistan, they must also consider the strains that population growth there will continue to place on infrastructure, education, health care, and even governance. Countries with a young age structure like Afghanistan are on average about two and half times more likely to experience the onset of civil conflict than older countries. And even if fertility in Afghanistan falls in the future, those large groups ages 0-5 will require a lot of jobs one day. Experiences in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere so far in 2011 show us what happens when these expectations go unmet.

Who
When groups within countries grow at different rates through natural increase or migration, conflicts over access to economic resources, political power, or cultural influence can arise. One area of the world that has seen tensions over differential growth is Europe. European states have some of the lowest fertility in the world. In stark contrast to Afghanistan, Italy’s median age is over 43 years and over the period 2005-2010 each woman on average had only 1.38 children. Already, over a quarter of the population is above age 60. In light of population aging, Italians, like many other Europeans, perceive that their way of life is under threat by the growth of foreign born or ethnic minorities. One illustration of tension over identity there is the recent outrage over refugees from North Africa, which the anti-immigrant Northern League political party is using to its advantage.

Global trends

Bringing the where and who together, the UN data show that the divide between the developed and developing world continues to grow. Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the fastest growing regions in the world, and the UN projects that the population will double by 2045, even if the sub-continent is able to reduce fertility from a current average of almost 5 children per woman to just over 3. If fertility stays at its current level, the continent’s population will double a decade earlier, reaching over 1.7 billion by 2035. On the other side of the divide, 42 percent of the world’s population, mostly the developed world, lives in low-fertility countries. Given the ties between fertility and age structure, and age structure and conflict and development, we can project that the economies of very low- and high-fertility countries, which mostly have very mature or very young age structures, will face challenges meeting the needs of their dependents, while those of the middle ages—like many rising powers—will experience high economic growth and a peace dividend. How these shifts translate to global power, peace, and prosperity will be something to watch.