Political instability and the health and wellbeing of youth: Evidence from Egypt

Investigator: Jenny X. Liu, PhD
Sponsor: NIH National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Location(s): Egypt


There is an emerging literature on how youth are affected by the degradation of confidence in existing institutions and social order during times of political unrest and regime change. While political unrest may not involve large-scale destruction associated with wars or genocides, repeated exposure to less extreme events may also have detrimental effects on youth. The recent spate of domestic political unrest in many countries highlights the tumultuous environment that large populations of disaffected youth are wrestling with at a time in their life course when critical decisions about investments into future wellbeing are made. Exposure to ecological stressors related to political protest events (both violent and non-violent) may not only affect individuals’mental health, but also their general future orientation, leading youth to invest less in established routes of success (e.g. schooling, employment) and/or adopt risky behaviors that affect their long-run development trajectory. A handful of previous have focused narrowly on proximate psychosocial outcomes in less generalizable settings. The proposed study is significant because we use large-scale population data in combination with a third-party data source that provides exogenous geographic and time variation on protest events. This allows us to rigorously estimate the effects of exposure to political unrest on a wide range of outcomes-affective perceptions of institutional and social trust, mental health, and economic investments- for a panel of youth and young adults exposed to political revolution and associated protests events. This study will answer 3 key questions about young people’s welfare during times of political unrest:

1) What is the immediate impact of exposure to political unrest on mental health and investments?;

2) What social and institutional resources moderate these effects?;and

3) Which sub-populations of youth are disproportionately affected?

The primary data we will use to examine these questions is a panel of over 15,000 youths and young adults aged 14-34 who were surveyed before and after the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. With GIS information, we can link the occurrence of protest events recorded in the Armed Conflict Location &Event Data Project by district to the individuals followed in the Survey of Young People in Egypt to estimate fixed effects difference-in- difference models and examine changes in health and behavior over time. This research is unique not only because of the available rich datasets with which to examine a natural experiment of exposure to political unrest, but also because findings may be more generalizable to the host of other demographically young nations similarly experiencing political unrest. The U.S. has strategic national interests in the course of development of many of these nations and particularly how the next generation of youth will shape the geopolitical environment.