The Generation Chasm: Do Young Populations Have Elderly Leaders?

February 03, 2012
This is a joint post with Stephanie Majerowicz.A colleague recently returned from Senegal and commented that she was struck by the vast gap between that country’s youthful population and its aged leader. President Abdoulaye Wade is 85 years old while the median Senegalese citizen is just 18.7 years old.  Perhaps that 66-year gap is one reason that Wade, who recently jammed through a change that allows him to run for a third term while disqualifying popular musician Youssou N’Dour, seems so out of touch.Could a triple (or quadruple) generation gap be a factor in the spread of protests and rising public anger against the government? (Riot police were deployed in the capital Dakar today against anti-government protestors.) Or, conversely, are wide age gaps symptoms of a government alienated from its citizens and unresponsive to their needsHmmm.  Hosni Mubarak was 83, a full 59 years older than the median Egyptian. The gap for both Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Libya’s Ghaddafi was 45 years.  Obviously the factors behind revolts like the Arab Spring are highly complex, and there are plenty of reasons to expect leaders to be much older than their populations. But we wondered if there might be some patterns? So with colleagues* we put together a little database of leader and median ages. (Full results here.)Top and Bottom 30The Generation Chasm winner:  Robert Mugabe at 69 years older than the median Zimbabwean.Other interesting take-aways:
  • A few Baby Presidents. Only 4 countries have a leader younger than the median age (Latvia, Montenegro, Finland, and as of about seven weeks ago North Korea).
  • Africa dominates the Top Ten. Eight of the top 10 biggest gaps are in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The Half-Century Club is African and Middle Eastern: Twenty-two countries have a gap of at least 50 years and all except India and Malaysia are from SSA or MENA. Those regions also account for 85% of the 33 countries with a gap of 45 years or more.
  • Demographics > Leader age. Yes, most of the regional trends are driven by demographics rather than leader age, but there are still quite stark differences, for instance the average MENA leader is more than a decade older than their peers in Europe & North America.
Regional AveragesSource: UN Population Division, 2010.We’ll keep looking at the data and explore other patterns (correlation with Freedom House scores, perhaps?).  We don’t want to over-reach here and suggest anything other than these huge gaps are quite glaring. But we also suspect that the Generation Chasm is a detail not lost on the streets of Dakar.*Special thanks to Ness Smith-Savedoff and Max Moss for compiling the data.


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