Monday, February 18, 2008

Idle youths

Yesterday the Times reported on "Islamic fervor" among Egypt's young, who comprise a significantly larger share of Egypt's population than say, American youth. The story is that unemployment and deprivation seem to be linked with a rise in fundamentalist belief.

The article led off with an anecdote about a young man who couldn't raise the funds required by the families for him to marry. For me, this perspective echoes back to Richard Easterlin's relative-income hypothesis of the late 1970s, although whether it is lower income truly in a relative sense that is creating anomie, or just lower income in an absolute sense, is unclear.

What is causing what is, as usual, completely unclear. Many countries that are majority Islamic are also developing countries, with high fertility rates and family sizes. But there are vast differences in unemployment and per capita income, with the Gulf states typically being better off for a variety of reasons.

In the extreme case, of religious fervor resulting in violence or terrorism, Alan Krueger and others have found few links to economic deprivation. I think the story there is more one of political deprivation.