More Young People.

If we look at the history of the last quarter century, we see two dominant and inter-related trends.  Radical Islam isn’t one of them.  First, the collapse of Soviet Communism inspired other followers to abandon the controlled economy for participation in the world market.  Second, information technology destroyed many old barriers.  Upheaval and opportunity resulted.   Currently, about a quarter of all the people in the world are aged 10 to 24.[1]  That is, they were born between 1992 and 2006.  The world in which they have grown up is that same world that older people have often found so disorienting.   Now young people face their own problems.

Those billions of young people are not equally distributed around the world.  They account for only 17 percent of the population in economically developed countries; for 29 percent in less-developed countries, and 32 percent in the least developed countries.  In the United States, the median age is 37; in Russia, 39; in Germany, 46.  In Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa, the median age is 18.  China offers a particularly interesting case of a transition.  Faced with a swiftly rising population, China declared a one-child policy for married couples.  It worked so well that the youth base of the population narrowed to a frightening degree.  A shortage of workers to replace those who are approaching retirement loomed.  At the same time, young couples found themselves providing care for up to four aging parents, while trying to work and raise their own child.  Recently, the government ended to one-child policy.

A disproportionate share of young people lives in the countries least well able to provide them with either an adequate education or a decent standard of living.  Take the example of India.  There are more than 420 million Indians between the ages of 15 and 34.  The median age is 27.  Desperate measures to expand primary education have had mixed results.  Although almost all Indian children now attend primary school, half of fifth graders can neither read at a second grade level nor do subtraction.[2]

Then, India needs to create 12-17 million new jobs every year to absorb the population growth.  In India and in other countries in similar dire straits, young people are forced into spotty, badly-paid just to get any jobs at all.  India’s reluctance to end the carbon-burning that drives economic growth in that country is easier to understand in light of that imperative.  The here and now weighs more heavily in the balance of decision-makers than does the future.[3]

Migration from “young” countries to “aging” countries might offer a solution.  However, there are several big barriers here.  First, even in the developed countries there is a problem of youth unemployment: in the United States, almost 17 percent of people between 16 and 29 are not in school and not working; in the European Union the youth unemployment rate averages 25 percent.[4]  It will be difficult to make the case for expanded immigration of young people when a country cannot even provide work for its own young people.  Second, the poor quality of education in many developing countries means that only some people will be viable migrants.

Even so, migration from the Lands of Inopportunity to the Lands of Opportunity may be inevitable.  There are 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.  The current refugee crisis in Europe shows just how difficult it can be to keep out hordes of determined people.

[1] Somini Sengupta, “The World’s Big Problem: Young People,” NYT, 6 March 2016.

[2] The wretched state of education can be glimpsed in Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger (2008), and Mohsin Hamid, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013).

[3] A third problem is anti-female sex selection.  There are 17 million more Indian males than females aged 10 to 24.

[4] Sengupta argues that the high European rate results from a combination of a slow economy and the absence of economically valuable skills.  The same may be true in the United States, although some economists would argue that the skills-deficit argument is false.

International sex standards.

According to a 2005 internet survey done by the Durex condom company—“Butch, I work for Mr. E. H. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad, and…”—the average respondent had sex 103 times a year and spent just under 20 minutes per time on foreplay. On the other hand, the mean is 109 times (twice a week) and 21 minutes on foreplay.

Who are the big losers in this international competition? Far and away, it’s the Japanese: they average 46 times a year. Less than four times a month. It must be like a subscription to a magazine: they call the January and July issues the January-February and July-August issues, but they aren’t any bigger. You’re just left wandering around the house looking at back issues of National Geographic.

The trajectory of Japan’s population has shifted from growth to decline. In 2007 Japan’s population reached its highest historical level at 128 million people, then it began to fall. If the country stays on this track there are projected to be only 87 million people by 2060. Of these, almost half will be aged 65 or over. Yikes! Projecting out to 2100, there might be no Japanese at all. That’s probably good news for the Council of the Learned Elders of Blue-Fin Tuna.

There are broad social and economic explanations for the change in Japanese demography. However, the issue has revealed several curious elements of Japanese culture as well. Social status and reputation are very important in Japanese society. Mess up in public on something and you can be tarred for life. So, lots of young men who have had some sort of embarrassment have become “shut-in” living with their parents and withdrawing from life. This is probably good for the on-line games and porn industries.

Interestingly, the Japanese are followed by Hong Kong (79 times a year), India (82), and China (90).   Why do Asians have less sex? A housing shortage that leads to a lack of privacy (self-conscious family limitation)? Government anti-natalism in societies threatened by over-population? Furthermore, if NPR finds out, will we have to listen to heart-rending stories about how people in western industrial countries are using up all the orgasms without concern for sex-starved Bangladeshis? Will environmentalists re-discover Wilhelm Reich and try to extend the Kyoto Protocol to cover an “orgone hole”?

Who are the winners? Inevitably, it’s the French (137 times a year). Two to three times a week, and almost 44 hours of foreplay. Americans and Israelis[1] clock in at 111 times a year and just under twenty minutes of foreplay per encounter. With stats like this to fall back on, American comedians and politicians (but I repeat myself) making fun of French military prowess just isn’t going to dent French national self-confidence.

Obviously, there’s a generational element here. It is young people who are most comfortable using the internet and least inhibited about answering questions on it, so the survey probably didn’t capture the experience of the middle aged. All the same, among the digerati, there is a big range of sexual practices. One suspects that the French are using the internet to access photos of Anna Kournikova falling out of her dress, while the Chinese are pirating industrial designs.


See: Atlantic Monthly, January/February 2005, p. 56; “Japan’s population crisis,” The Week, 17 January 2014, p. 11

[1] Apparently we have more in common than just a hatred of radical Muslims.