There's an interesting article
(in English translation) about the effect of sudden shifts in demographics within a population. I found myself nodding along with nearly every point, having it tie in very seamlessly with some other ideas I've encountered over the years.
This leads me to make a sweeping generalization
:Young men are the major dynamic force that stirs societies.
Nearly every other demographic is a force for stability. I'm not saying that this is good or bad, but merely that balance in society can roughly be pictured as young men on one side, and all other demographics on the other.
Stability can be stagnation, dynamism can be progress- it depends on how it's channeled.
The tails of the male intelligence bell curve are longer. This means more morons and more geniuses in the male population than females. Morons are likelier (before modern 'safety' societies) to die young before they can cause too much damage. Genius usually blooms early and settles into solidly unimaginative above-average stability later in life.
The male peaks sexually earlier, and probably more sharply
than the female. Ealier because reproduction bears very little cost to the male's homeostatic systems: a few grams of nutrient lost in semen, as opposed to major chemical cycles taking weeks and months (in the case of actual pregnancy) to complete. The effects of testosterone are dramatic increases in aggression and risk-taking behaviour. Risk and profit have a correlation, so good AND bad things happen because of this. Male sexuality has a sharp spike starting early and a long slow decline. This has ramifications for the emotional and intellectual capability of young males to channel this energy productively, where older males are not only accustomed to the influence of testosterone, but it is not as intense as levels decline a bit.
Other demographics are all forces for stability. Older men don't have the energy levels to effect major changes in the way they interact with society. Older men exert the influence of experience (wisdom) and higher social status over young men, mostly to keep them from becoming animals. When they cannot restrain or re-direct these tendencies, they eliminate the younger men through competition using trickery and guile, such as social maniuplation like sending them off to be eliminated by enemies. This is a typical method being used in Islamic countries at the moment. Some people will always trot out the canard that old men send young men to war, citicizing the US, but in some societies
it truly is the only relief valve they have.
Women are less likely to risk themselves in rebellion against society because they do not experience the same aggressive imperative as men, and their greater involvement in reproduction selects against unstable societies, becoming more conservative as they age. And children settle down both males and females- becoming a father may not tie one down quite as much as becoming a mother, but it's a major influence in a properly socialized male's life.There's more eidence.
An extremely large percentage of crime is committed by males between the ages of 15 and 24 years old. 57% of arrests as opposed to 18% of the population in 1970, to 41% of crimes and 14% of the general population in 2003. There's a sharp drop-off after this age, to the point that the DoJ only counts the statistics as "25 and above." (and on the lower end as "14 and under.") Very little crime is being commited by those over 40, and these are usually not physically risky crimes of direct aggression.
Our extended neoteny in modern society probably contributes to extending the tail of this curve on the older side: Idle hands etc. Delaying the expectation that young men will become productive members of society (i.e. work, and marriage, and fatherhood) until later in life gives them less incentive to be a positive force in society. The lack of direct responsibilities leads to further unchanneled energy, which is then turned to seeking status in ways that are not sanctioned by or are even actively harmful to society- sexual promiscuity, aggression, and crime, not to mention that while not being a positive force, they are still consuming society's resources.
In societies with no directly physically dangerous challenges for young men to undertake with society's approval, they (the young men) will invent
physically dangrous challenges: street racing, fighting, drinking contests, fights, sports, territorial gang disputes
, you name it. Some middle category exists of risky but not necessarily negative behaviours like scuba diving, parachuting, extreme sports, running with the bulls, and then finally those who are channeled better by culture (as in transmitted values from generation to generation) will become society's "Sheepdogs"
: firefighters, pilots, police, and military, sports figures (note sports is in both categories- have you followed the criminal careers of sports stars?), etc. These categories overlap a bit- violent and predatory youth can sometimes be subsumed into an organization which channels their aggression to the betterment of society, if discipline can be applied in the right way (which varies by individual). Sometimes they just end up in and out of prison. Sometimes kids who start out on a military or other positive path end up committing a crime and falling off the path.
Going back to my sweeping generalization: Aging societies tend to be very static. Witness Japan. They had a population explosion and huge decrease in infant mortality after WWII, which led to unprecedented growth much like the baby boomers in America. Both of these groups are now reaching retirement age, and the growth of Japan with low birth rates and effectively zero immigration has slowed to a crawl, while America's higher native birth rates and massive influx of immigration has continued to grow- the dynamism of the young.
Gunnar Heinsohn seems to be nearly approving of China's difference in only growing 300%-400%, instead of the 7 and 8-fold growth of the Islamic nations. He doesn't go into the draconian governmental policies of birth control they have enacted. Not only is the human rights violation of forced abortion and sterilization appalling, but it has created an even further skewed male/female ratio: with one birth per couple authorized by the government, there has been a huge growth of cases of undocumented births in order to murder girl infants before they count against the limit, or selectively abort females, because the social custom of females going to join the husband's family and males staying to support the parents in old age means a marked preference for male children.
The problem comes from ratios. It's not population growth or shrinkage per se
that is the problem , but the speed with which it happens affects society's ability to absorb the changes, and compensate or correct those trends. The incipient baby boomer retirement surge will mean a large change in the number of workers/non workers in society. I hear some peopl who have decided not to have children claim that they will make enough money that they won't rely on kids to support them; this is a fallacious position because no matter what how many dollars you have in the bank, you will always need someone to do the actual work. Less young people working means higher price of labour. Your savings will avail you nothing if the price of labour rises too much. As Heinsohn mentions, 3rd world labour is not the panacea: you need technical workers who were raised with an understanding of technology- people who grew up with the idea that doctors are scientific people, not someone who shakes a gourd and chants over you while you recover or not. Government welfare programs like Social Security, which has always been a pyramid scheme, are not going to be supportable: the screen hiding the Wizard of Oz is getting more and more transparent. This is another problem that is not solved by importing third world workers: they bring their own old people with them.
My grandparents, and those of many of my friends had far more children than we do. My grandmother had 7 children. My mother had 5. I don't have any yet, and I'm 35. We're reaching a cliff of population instability that could conceivably (I'm not doom-saying yet!) mean a change in the direction of humanity's progress towards enlightenment and rationality, as the highly educated and more pacifistic first world becomes overwhelmed by the unwashed and increasingly aggressive masses of the third.
As I've been reading in Thomas Sowell's Race and Culture
t wouldn't be the first time the barbarians have conquered a civilized, and more technologically advanced society.
In related news: Too many Wangs in China
h/t Ace of Spades
for the China story, and Kim Dutoit
for the link to the Gates of Vienna blog