I’m writing a post-apocalyptic RPG, but I have a problem when dealing with the reconstruction of the society. The apocalypse left alive only the young people up to 21 years of age.

Even though the event that triggered the apocalypse is over, the effects last over time, so the young are affected (that is, all); once they get to 21 years of age, they stop growing. Death is still possible due to unnatural causes (accidents, murders, etc.) or due natural causes (disease). Aging affects only the brain, so, assuming that a guy manages to get to his 71th age, he could die of "old age" for the deterioration of brain cells.

So, imagine a world populated only by children, teens, and young.

In the first years after the apocalypse the number of survivors will lower a lot, but after a reasonable period of time (five, ten years?) they may create complex societies that seek to restore civilization before the apocalypse.

The problem is basically this: how would be these societies structured?

The geographical areas in which I would like to set the game, for now, are Europe, North America, South America and the Far East.

Other information:

  • The year of the disaster is 2045.
  • The technology is slightly superior to ours. Electric cars have become the norm, no longer exist pesticides based on oil derivatives, there are implants guided by thought, technologies based on renewable energy are more resistant, and digital libraries are widespread.
  • Before 2045 there was the Peak Oil. Gasoline and other derivatives are no longer available.

Given the feedback received from the "magical radiation," I changed the apocalypse: nanomachines! These nanomachines are inside the body of the guys and prevent their growth. But beware: they prevent it by the 21 years of age, so children and teenagers continue to grow up to 21 years and then, their growth will stop.

Most Internet-based databases are permanently destroyed. Some military databases are still functioning, as well as some civilians one, but 80% of the Internet and computer media are gone.:

Ok, let’s try to figure out if I’ve understood the situation.
My disaster is one of the worst that humanity can ever face as relief it is not about a single part of the world to its knees, but the entire globe leaking knowledge and primary authority figures simultaneously. Moreover, the current technology in industrialized countries requires an enormous effort of maintenance and a thorough understanding of how it works. This leads to 2.7 billion of young people between 0 and 21 years of age without any practical knowledge on the operation of its technology, without any useful knowledge and without leading figures.

So at the time of the immediate aftermath power grid, water networks, waste, communication networks both by telephone and computer will fall. Maybe some solar panels connected to an autonomous power grid will continue to function and operate the devices connected to them for a while, but after five years they will probably stop working. The power plants, without maintenance, will shut down in a fraction of the time. At this point, I can choose between two possible routes that humanity can follow.

Immediate disaster

Disaster strikes so violently and so quickly humanity, that young people do not have time to be prepared. Adults fail to convey the technical knowledge in time for a generational change. Because Western civilization depends very much on a too complicated technology, the collapse will be extremely violent. Supermarkets and other resources of canned food will be looted by scavengers in the first days after the end of the apocalypse, the crops will die, disease and violence will be rampant, and certainly half of the survivors will die in the first year after the apocalypse. They will be terrible years. Hope will disappear, leaving survivors traumatized, stressed and depressed.

The most widespread form of social gathering in the first year will be gangs, groups of agricultural settlers and religious groups. Most of the survivors will live in this "wild state". The conflict for control of the few remaining resources will be frequent, especially those between the gangs and the farming communities, and among the gang themselves. Many areas would become open battlefields, with warlords, militias and values regression. The technology and its recovery would be secondary to the food and survival needs. Gang will be widespread in these territories, since they are the most resilient form of social organization. It will look the end of humanity.

However, civilization won’t disappear. The military campuses throughout the Western world will be the beacons of hope for all those guys who want to flee from poverty and violence. The students in these fields, trained in the use of violence, discipline, and mutual trust, will organize social life around their campus, recruiting geeks and other survivors as a workforce. These camps will create protected areas for the survivors, where they will start the first forms of industrial production. In addition to the geek, will be sought survivors with manual skills, or knowledge of certain technologies. Rather than restore the computer technology, survivors will try to reactivate the machinery capable of producing electricity from renewable energy, and produce a technology similar to that of the steam era. Agriculture will always be the priority, but after a few years that will be stabilized, these campuses will be able to administer the cities where they are located, creating enclaves of civilization in the midst of barbarism.

At this point you can begin the recovery of the lost knowledge. Some geeks and craftsman will certainly have survived, and there are real stories of kids who, without any technical knowledge, just by reading books, have managed to create wind turbines for their villages, so I think you may have a similar effect in this case. Books rather that Internet will provide survivors the needed capabilities to restart the civilizations. Children born in the meantime (because yes, adolescents and young people left free to themselves will have a lot of sex) will be educated and trained to survive.

At this point, all groups of survivors, both inside and outside of the enclaves will close the "tribal" phase of survival, organizing themselves into groups.

Form of mass communication will never be restored, since the internet is gone, and the restored server will be a few, so the maximum political extension that you will ever achieve is that of a region. The world will never recover completely, at least not for the next 1000 years, and there are always two kinds of survival: that tribal, based on gangs, nomad groups and agricultural commune, and the organized one, with factions, cities and enclaves.

So the point of this scenario are

  • Western society heavily rely on technology. Apocalypse would hit hard.

  • In the immediate post-apocalypse world collapses. No technology available, all networks collapse. Young people would be politically prepared the event, since they have a slight leadership and work experience ,and they have a more liberal thought, but do not have knowledge gained through experience, and have high rates of technological dependence. Half of the survivors dies for the violence and lowering the quality of life.

  • Begins the phase of the immediate aftermath. The survivors gather in small groups similar to the gang, plundering and fighting each other for the few remaining resources.

  • No stable organization , no attempt to revitalize the civilization, the only priority is survival in the short term.

  • Begins the tribal phase. Farming grows quickly, simultaneously to the scavenging of other groups of children. Stable social organizations are gangs, and agricultural and religious commune. There will be conflicts, small factions, and agricultural production will begin.

  • Meanwhile, the military campus will attract people, organizing the lives of survivors to increase the chances of survival.

  • Once resolved the immediate emergency, they will try to restore the technology, starting with the basic things, and dropping the computer technology. Libraries will be important centres of culture, and begin the recovery of lost technologies.

  • After many years, the world is divided between tribal societies, and small territories administered with the recovered technologies. With the restoring of small power grids, some data centers are restored, and with them the knowledge within.

Soft impact

Adults have the time to organize the generational. The story takes a completely different twist. The technology is slightly worse than ours, but dies only 1/4 of the survivors. There will be power struggles, many enclaves cities will be destroyed by internal and/or external struggles, but eventually the technology will not be lost, and the world will enter a phase of history similar to the Renaissance.

So, do you think that the story, as written here, is realistic, or at least plausible?

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    $\begingroup$ Young (still growing) people would be more susceptible to ant DNA damage. Also, you may, or may not, know the saying: "show me a person who does not appreciate 20 years of experience, and I will show you person who lacks 20 years of experience". Some kind of problems you start understanding only after many years of experience. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ In better news, Spain's sky-high Youth Unemployment Rate finally takes a sudden dip! $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ If you have people aged 21, you'd have a number of people who are almost ready to graduate college and even a few who already have. Others would already be full members of the work force. The skills you'd be missing are those requiring years of experience or even more training - doctors and lawyers for instance. You'd also have a lot of people with technical knowledge but not much practical experience. $\endgroup$
    – CoolCurry
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 17:34
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    $\begingroup$ Fair warning Yaniv: there are several questions documenting just how poorly such societies behave compared to what most authors would like. Expect a large number of answers where society completely dissentigrates, but humanity survives in smaller tribal pockets. A surprisingly large amount of our culture is in a form which cannot be written down, and will be lost in your apocalypse. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ growth will stop: what does it supposed to mean? They will never get old and die? Will they die when they reach 21? They will continue to get older, but would not grow mentally? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 20:06

8 Answers 8


You would be surprised how long (or better, how short) the electricity grid would work without any adult "supervision". No adults to schedule and run trains to deliver coal to power stations and supervise them. Within days, all technology will collapse, and life would off-the-grid mostly.

Industrial feeding plants growing pigs and chicken would collapse (who would know how to feed 50K pigs? And would that teenager be sober enough to do it?)

Within few days looters and warring gangs would start taking over shops and food resources. Without electricity, fresh food will spoil in days, and there would not be anyone to restock the shelves. Best prepared for such violence (and still alive) would be drug dealers. So "civilized" parts of the world would be run by drug dealers within a week. Obviously not for long. Those are not exactly the people interested in long-term planning, or survival of the community. Those areas would collapse faster.

Better chance for surviving humanity would be in backward agrarian societies using very few technologies, but able to grow their own food. Even if much knowledge would be lost, those communities would be able to survive to the next harvest.

Military campuses is our best chance in civilized areas. Young (<21), with experience to efficiently obey orders, and most importantly skilled in the application of violence young military is our best chance to fight off gangs and preserve humanity. If geeks in cities will be smart, they would join forces with them. If not, they will lose to gangs.

Also, young military recruits know each other and trust each other so they would be much more effective in applying more effective weapons they already have, so they do have a chance to preserve humanity in some areas (rest would go down in war between gangs). They also have the training to understand what is defensible position, how to prepare and hold one, and how important is not to overstretch your forces - all that geeks would have to learn by trial and error (and pay by blood for lessons learned).

Now, if radiation, a virus, or magic keeps killing those over 21, humanity is almost certainly doomed. If woman's fertility starts at 14 and last to 21, it is not enough to replace population with high mortality (because most knowledge about surviving will be lost), and there is not enough time to pass those little bits of knowledge.

OP edited his question: kill-everyone-over-21 is one-time affair

(if virus would keep killing people over 21, simple agrarian societies with big amount of population under 21 (which can recover faster) would be able even to preserve some of the lost knowledge. But it is not the case).

Military training campuses with biggest concentration of the survivors (<21) would create protected areas. They would make some raids to save younger relatives, but likely would realize the futility, and just adopted youngsters from neighborhood without parents. Effective agriculture would have to be developed quickly. More than geeks, skilled craftsmen and repair technicians would be lured and provided protection. Because young lack skill and training to use modern technology (and more important keep it going - making all required maintenance would be impossible with lacking tools and network of supplies ), they would re-develop steam-age technology to provide power for agriculture, and reboot. Would be lots of back-breaking work, because productivity would decrease substantially. First 3-5 years would be the hardest, with huge mortality, especially children (medicine will fall apart).

After some stabilization, in a year or two (when agriculture is established and more productive), such commune might start to think about acquiring and preserving the knowledge. Surviving geeks will be invited (if they have skills), remnants of libraries saved, education established. It will be all printed on paper. People will be asked to write knowledge they recall. If we are lucky, some geeks survive to be able to restart some servers and get wikipedia and other digital resources. Not internet tho - it would not be necessary for small local communes.

I expect having steam-engine level technology within 10 years. With enough increase of productivity that "the elders" (aged 12-21 during the plague) may have time to recall knowledge and teach younger generation. Now all the surviving geeks will be very valuable. With printing press found in museums, printing books and learning is popular again. Small local and city/county museums and antique shops, preserving 19th century technology, would be more valuable than Google server farm. Such enclaves will start building city-states and even possible war for resources.

On each continent there would be dozens such enclaves, each around some pre-existing military training facility in a rural area, and some rural areas based on religion (like Mormons). I don't think that police in cities would be as effective in preserving humanity, for few reasons:

  • worse neighborhood (drug gangs are closer)
  • focus on preserving all (this would be a disadvantage - you have resources to preserve only your own tribe: people whom you trust and who will not betray you)
  • less available agricultural resources (you need to start growing your own food, fast)
  • with all that non-allied people, it is harder to establish your own protected territory.

But with Marines in charge, and young women not dying (being able to take care of newborn children and educate them), humanity would survive. Don't aim to revive computer revolution - industrial revolution will be just fine This time around, it will take less time to get from there to here.

Some final comments to final edit of original question (which is rather close to my answer :-)

  • Gangs would get established fast but will not last because gangs are not productive - they are predatory, cannot produce and create values, cannot set up fair and just agriculture/manufacturing farm where everyone contributes and benefits. My bet is on military campuses (colleges and training camps), which also have better weapons.
  • Many young people trained in crafts will be able to fix leaking pipes, cars and other simpler technology (not chip manufacturing). At 21 you may have associate degree and 2 years of field experience. Maybe a car with loudspeaker can invite people who want protection and honest work to your protected farm. You also need to design program to evaluate newcomers and even banish freeloaders (and have military protection of your farm). Yes, you may have to kill other tribes who want to eat from your fields.
  • I don't expect much from theocratic communities. (A) all authority figures would disappear, but mostly (B) it is about solving practical problems of survival, not spiritual: Maslow's hierarchy and if they form, there would be no difference from military: protect your farm from scavengers, only then you can provide care for soul.
  • "Dark Ages" would not last 1000 years. Smart communities can start steam age technologies within 10 years by scavenging materials (and they don't have to invent unknown stuff, just learn it from books), it is safe to assume reaching current level of technology in the same 300 years or less. In fact, I expect 1900-level technology within 100 years: reverse-engineer stuff found in museum or some farm.
  • Within first year there would be rush to save books from local public libraries, school libraries, universities (protect them from destruction by gangs) and establish written laws. Books are more usable than internet, and all that info is on paper which would last some 100 years. Another good resource would be technical museums (if not destroyed by gangs): good old printing press and steam locomotive
  • Another good resource worth fighting for would be warehouses, especially of office equipment and supplies like paper (to preserve knowledge). Food would be looted and/or destroyed/spoils first, before situation stabilized.
  • Don't get too obsessed about clean technologies. We have enough coal, and there would be less humans to support and with simpler needs. We need energy.
  • Politics will be established immediately (you need representatives to self-govern big communities) and even if voting age will decrease to maybe 15, when elders are not dying it will be push to set it back. Within decade, diplomacy, deceptions and wars will start (each community protecting own interests) by force if necessary. It's your choice if we keep old constitution or try something new, but you need laws to govern people.
  • Worst loss would be in medicine, because by 21 you still know very little, and to be effective you need advanced manufacturing and materials, all requiring lost skills.
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    $\begingroup$ I once saw a TV show (something on the history channel called "Life After People" - not fiction per se, but I don't know if I'd call it a documentary either) which claimed that the Hoover Dam, and the parts of the power grid it supplies, would last much longer than the rest of the country. $\endgroup$
    – Random832
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, that why I bet on Marines to win over both drug gangs and MIT/Caltech alliance. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ Your final edit is very close to my answer :-) but: (1) Gangs would get established fast but will not last because they not productive - they are predatory, cannot produce and create values, set up fair and just agriculture/manufacturing farm where everyone contributes and benefits. (2) many young people trained in crafts will be able to fix leaking pipes, cars and other simpler technology (not chip manufacturing). At 21 you may have associate degree and 2 years of field experience. Maybe a car with loudspeaker can invite people who want protection and honest work. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 1:44
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    $\begingroup$ Stone era? No way. There is enough metal rusting everywhere, and knowledge how to use it is common. Closer analogy would be Greek city-states with pre-industrial revolution technology (late enlightenment). And you have books with all lost knowledge. This is why my bet is on young military above all else. This is all about "do not panic, solve problems one at a time". They are trained to do exactly that, in teams. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ Are you sure democracy would form again? I would think even military campuses would be authoritarian for a while. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 2:46

"This is the last time you laugh at me, you wrinkly-faced DEAD man!" cried Havok at the bar-tender who refused him service, before heading home and getting working on his bio-mimetic nano-machine-fueled revenge.

In retrospect, historians consider that Linus Gates' decision to release the source-code for the 3D biofabricator freely on the net was "Like, incredibly dumb, you know," and "LFMAO stupid" and "Epic Fail!"

Regardless, in a few weeks Havok had a customized nanovirus, reading telomere length, killing anyone id-ed as over 21, and effectively stopping biological aging for anyone below that age. As historians put it, "Yeah, pretty wicked smart. LULZ." He used his position in a brand new iVRLens factory to sprinkle his deadly dust on the cover of the much-coveted product, just in time for the Christmas sales of 3 billion units.

As all the 21+ adults died horribly on New Year's Eve, the complacent gen ZZ survivors were too high to notice anything happened for a few days. After thoroughly raiding liquor stores around the nation, nature took its course and the entitled brats started dying off in their millions, splitting into warring bands and descending into an adolescent violent fantasy world.

The survivors initially looked to the active armed forces, such as the Marines, but lacking leadership, with an effective surviving strength below 40,000 spread across North America, and without their maintenance engineers and their extensive supply chains, the Marines were slowly on their way to becoming just another (better organized) gang, until thankfully they were recruited by Anonymous (see below).

Eventually, order in the HKTFCONAFTA (Humbly Kow-Towing and Fully Chinese Owned North American Free Trade Area) was restored by the Fraternal Anonymous Coalition, comprising students from a loose alliance of US Technical and Military colleges, led by MIT, West Point and Caltech, who hacked into and took over the sun-powered EyeSky Defensive Drone Grid. After defeating and exterminating Mara Salvatrucha and other gangs, Anonymous went on to impose a ruthless technocracy that lasted for over 30 years (before the Singularity finally kicked in and Havok's next creation, the aptly named SuperEvilAI killed off all the survivors in the process of turning the planet into paperclips -- just kidding).

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world:

Europe's population was cut down by 4/5th as the elders clawed futilely at their eyes. Left without water and food supplies, the few unarmed survivors are at the mercy of roaming Albanian, neo-Viking and Roma gangs. 95% of survivors are dead before Spring. By the end of the next year, Europe is a depopulated wasteland, with organized enclaves of survivors in Ireland and the rural areas of France and Eastern Europe.

South Sudan As all the tribal elders die, there is a bit of disruption before the eldest surviving sons reestablish firm control. Pastoral life goes on much as before.

Japan The Machine Overseer AIs (監督機) detect a sudden drop in their elderly population. They react by reducing GDP allocations to nursing homes to 0, bringing Japan's budget out of deficit for the first time in a half-century. The unemployed robonurses are deployed to safeguard the 1% of the pre-event population under the age of 5. Robo-Police are deployed on the streets to prevent looting or littering, and arrange proper funerals for the 100 million bodies. Electric services, water and whaling continue unabated.

Kuwait With the trade system eliminated, the water desalinization plants offline, 99.5% of the initial survivors die of thirst and hunger before the year is out.

Israel The dazed Israeli survivors blink once, twice, utter "shlimazel", then proceed to continue to direct their eternal war with Palestine-ISIS from their bunkers, as above ground their respective gamma-ray robots continue the fight over the desolated sun and laser scorched holy land.

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    $\begingroup$ Very Creative! +1 $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for funny, but sadly not realistic. When Caltech will be fighting for last food supplies with Nortenos gang, sadly being psychopathic enough to be able to kill other humans without remorse is advantage for Nortenos. I would fight on MIT/caltech side but I am afraid our side will lose. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, very creative, but try to adapt this story to an Eritrean child, and then we'll talk. $\endgroup$
    – Yaniv
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterMasiar, A group of 10,000 educated, organized, law-abiding people fighting for their lives is far more scary than any street gang, comprised of the scum of society. Besides, who is more likely to get willing allies? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 22:19
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    $\begingroup$ Gang is already organized (has command structure), well armed, and skilled in using violence. You also underestimate fear factor. People want to be allies with likely winner. Geeks do not look like winner. They also tend to argue, are far from organized, and value own opinion too much. Better chance to survive in a city would be to move into a nearest military training camp (again, it is all about effective application of violence). $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 22:51

Have you ever dreamed of a world with no politicians or lawyers? Well, you just got your wish.

And now the bad news. You also suddenly got a world with almost no police, firefighters, engineers, doctors, surgeons, investigators, garbage collectors, electrical linemen, power plant operators, etc.

You also got rid of generals, presidents, governors, warlords, and mafia dons - simultaneously. All primary authority figures are gone now - and this includes parents of most children over the age of 5 (assuming all kids were had by mothers at 16 - which is not a great assumption).

According to world census data as of 2010 (rounded figures), 7 billion people on earth will drop to 600 million children aged 0-4 (some of whom will have a parent or two), 600 million children aged 5-9 most of whom will have no living parents (we'll call this the new "working class"), 600 million children aged 10-14 with no living parents (the new young adults), and another maybe 1 billion 15-21 year olds who are now "the elders". That's more than half the world population gone, and roughly 3 out of 4 people will have no living parents.

Good god, this is going to get ugly. If everyone died quickly with no preparation, forget about trying to rebuild society after a few years - that's when the worst of the pestilence, disease, and starvation will likely start to kick in as preserved foods are used up and everyone tries to figure out how to feed themselves with fishing, farming, and hunting. I hope the few who know how to do that teach others in a hurry.

The good news is when this happens pretty much all wars and armed conflicts in the world will momentarily halt. With no one in charge and the fighting forces surely wanting to return home to take care of their orphan younger children, at least that'll go away for a while.

Say, come to think of it, what kind of organization is really resilient against decapitation - removal of its leaders? This is when things could get really, really bad - street gangs may see their leaders (many in prison) die, but there is always a flush of young ambitious lieutenants who want to take over. With the sudden collapse of most economies, rolling blackouts, and mass failure of communication systems (they'd better have some way more awesome robots and power/communication automation in 2045 than we've discussed), gang life will probably be the new high life.

If history is any judge, with the old leaders gone there could be new waves of intensifying violence as aspiring leaders try to dominate and secure precious resources for their bands - food, guns, ammo, companionship, water, etc.

Elsewhere there will need to be militias that form in communities of survivors to protect themselves from less fortunate raiders and the new rising gangs. As existing resources are used up and any remaining working sources of food/energy production become high prizes, power grabs, desperation, and greed become the new horsemen of the apocalypse. With most advanced medical practitioners gone and new disease and pestilence surely rising in the wake of all this mass death and following destruction, things will go from bad to worse.

Resurrect society in 10 years? I'd be optimistic to think we'd even be able to hope for a state of "not immediately facing death, starvation, and destruction" within 20-100 years. Things would stabilize, but the loss of all formal education, training, parenting, accumulated wealth, societal structure, and institutional knowledge from the apocalypse isn't going to rebuild quickly. Advancement is going to take a lot, lot longer - prioritization means most "we don't need this right now" tech and practices may just be forgotten entirely.

How would such a fledgling new world be structured?

Well, I would suggest we consider what groups would be in a position to function with their established leadership gone. I'd point to tight-knit rural/farming communities who don't rely much on external support anyway and who would form loyal militias the easiest (many of whom are already trained with guns and farm practices anyway), street gangs and similar organized crime syndicates who are highly resilient to disruption as it is nowadays, and various religious groups as they focus so strongly on education/indoctrination and tradition from a very young age.

I'd thus posit the rise of Militias, Gangs, and Theocratic Communities (who'd still have their holy books and memory of their parents traditions, and who don't really rely on specialists all that much) as the sets of people who are most able to gain power and attain stability in this post-apocalyptic world. Politics would immediately press into existence alliances of smaller groups to depend on larger groups, Gangs would often conflict with each other while occasionally negotiating cease-fires and arrangements that would leave them free to expand in other ways, and Theocrats would vary widely in whether they sought to expand or just defend their own existence and driving off outsiders who do not share what will surely become increasingly strange in their unique new orthodoxy's (often driven by necessity to adapt to this new world). Cults may become widespread and may be sources of alternating security/hope and horror/depravity.

Child labor will have to become the norm, as the world simply won't be able to pull so much dead weight with most of the working world just falling over dead. Adjustment will be painful, and subsistence will become most people's primary goal for many years.

I'd be very surprised if after the 60% extinction apocalypse if even half of the remaining young people could make it to the new adulthood. I don't know that there'd be enough food or resources or non-polluted/diseased areas to support them.

For real-world inspiration for how events might unfold, consider the world post World Wars and particularly bad Civil Wars. The problem is that, in all these cases, there were relatively unaffected parts of the world that could help rebuild and modernize the destroyed parts. Consider Sierra Leon for what might begin to happen with no government; consider also the rise of the Ku Klux Klan after the US civil war and reconstruction (these are both excellent examples of militias, new warlords, and the harshness of societal change).

What you posit, though, is a hell of a lot worse than all these past historic events, because it is so evenly and thoroughly horrific and is perhaps ideally constructed to wipe out government, authority, and most existing societal structures. I'd put it on par with mass-extinction events, and you'd be hard-pressed to stretch it into a scenario were spirals of terrible events didn't occur post-apocalypse. Heck, I think the people who'd die from the initial event might be the lucky ones.

If you want something less drastic, I'd recommend something that isn't so quickly lethal. Give the existing 21+ people a chance to realize their inevitable fate and try to attempt some sort of Herculean effort of providing a less sudden hand-off. Give them a time to get their affairs in order, institute a sudden youth-training program, make arrangements for soon-to-be-orphans, attempt to preserve instructions and manuals on how things work, stockpile resources, and put in place a new system of organization and authority. Even a year might be enough to at least stave off some of the worst and most dramatic losses - even if it just could try to limit the loss of utilities, power, communication, food, and accumulated written/video knowledge. Even if things went to hell anyway, major disasters could be avoided like gas explosions, sudden dam failures, nuclear weapon loss/explosions, chemical/biological weapon and disease containment, immediate waves of starvation, etc.

Even then, I'd consider the destabilizing effects of doing mostly the same general thing, but with also a sort of Old World Order (with perhaps military becoming the new police) in some prioritized areas where it was possible to retain order. Things might stay a little more stable for longer, but there is no way such a sudden loss of structure, power, and order isn't going to set off waves of fragmentation eventually. If you can't count on the old government you are going to need to turn to something - crime/gangs, militia/community alliances, religion, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ 15-21 year olds being "the elders?" I was impressed with the entire answer, but that one line made me shiver. Excellent word choice! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ Your assumption that few people would know how to hunt, fish, and farm is extremely incorrect. That might be true in economically developed nations, but definitely not for most of the world. Even in developed nations, though, there are still lots of people who know how to farm, fish, and hunt outside of the major cities. This would be especially true of people who grew up on a farm, as they'd usually learn very early in life. Even for those who don't grow up on a farm, though, it's quite common for people to hunt, fish, and/or raise gardens as a hobby. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab in modern times, and even more so in the proposed 2045, "doing farming" means running the entire supply chain that includes not only operating the farm machinery and the semi-automated food processing plants, but also drilling for oil, running chemical plants to make fertilizer and pesticides, and manufacturing engines and machine parts. A relevant college degree helps, but it would still take years of on-site learning to become productive. Reverting to low-tech farming and fishing will feed your family, but it would still mean that the vast majority of global population starves. $\endgroup$
    – Peteris
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 22:56
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab a college degree in engineering doesn't mean that you're an engineer in any reasonable meaning of the word. It means that after 10+ further years of learning and practicing you might become an 'engineer' that can actually run much of the processes that our world needs. $\endgroup$
    – Peteris
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 22:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Peteris That's completely false. I am an engineer. I was designing embedded systems about 2 weeks after I graduated. That's not to say someone still at that point doesn't still have a lot to learn, but they can already be quite productive right out of school in most cases. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 23:06

It appears that I'm late to the party. I think it would realistically be less optimistic than to allow internet access and the like. Let's answer this question with a few lists:

General characteristics of people younger than 21

  • Higher propensity for activism
    • Unstable organizations
    • Less hierarchical organizations
  • More liberal thought
  • The oldest tend to be in charge
  • Nobody owns/has owned land
  • Little leadership experience
  • Little work experience
  • High rates of dependence

Given parameters and parameter effects on the young population

  • All adults die horrific deaths because of fallout
    • High tolerance for death
  • 2045 is more technologically advanced than present day
    • High dependence on technology
  • (Assumed) People aged 21 and younger are very similar to present day youth
    • Unless the youth can quickly produce a food surplus (improbable in the wake of the technology splurge), most would resort to hunting (and later farming) instead of scholarship at first. This doesn't account for the fact that the youth may just run themselves into the ground looking to technology as an answer.
    • Many details of history (greater than 21 years) would be temporarily forgotten (and may be warped to legend) until things are set straight by scholars years later
  • Virtually nobody knows how to run a factory or repair technology.
  • People don't outwardly age

Predictions about the year 2045

  • The US government predicts that the population age 21 and younger will be 2.75 billion people, about the same as the total population of the year 1950 (Source)
  • Technology dependence greater than today
  • Non-intelligent machines
  • Before the technological singularity (Machines won't repair themselves)

Now let's run these lists against what we think we know about the progression of society and imagine a working scenario:

Year 1 - Post-apocalyptic

  • Most of the infrastructure is down, and possible broken (plumbing, electricity, roads)
  • There is no organized government
  • Much of the remaining population dies from hunger and disease. For arguments sake, let's say half is gone
    • There are 2-3 bodies per remaining person, and only a small fragment will be disposed correctly. This would cause a lot of disease for those remaining.
    • The food on the shelves will be gone in weeks, and most crops will be dead without anyone that knows how to tend them. Think of the dust bowl
  • The only thing that would remain are gangs
  • The 21 year olds are freaking out about dying
  • High infant mortality rates mean few new babies are being born

Year 10 - Tribal

  • The oldest may have realized they don't age, and now they think they're immortal
  • "Tribes" of people are formed with primitive leadership out of necessity for food and protection from gangs
  • Bartering common
  • High rate of uprising
  • Some agriculture, but mostly scavenging and hunting
  • Most "tribes" would have at least one person that figured out technology and machinery

Year 30 - Agricultural

    • The actual age of the surviving population is around 40 years old, so young families will be common (baby boom)
  • It may be a little generous, but with access to all of the information in all of the libraries, I think that the civilization would be able to farm moderately using electric machinery (Solar powered).
  • Many of the tribes have joined to form villages and small cities. This would allow for government and infrastructure.
  • People have now started to trust each other enough to build infrastructure
  • Time not seen as a resource because nobody has died of old-age and everyone looks young
  • There will be primitive understanding of electronics as a whole
  • Unable to use readily accessible fossil fuels, old clean energy sources will have been rebooted to start manufacturing new energy sources

Year 100 - Industrial and Technological

  • When people realize that brains get old and people die, things will progress again.
  • Clean-energy factories will be built (probably out of old buildings
  • The general surplus of food allows cities to be built
  • The youngest survivors from Year 1 will die of old age
  • Ageism will be a thing of the past (Especially for those age 21 and older)

This will probably never be read, but I had fun answering it.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Why are you a pessimist? I read it and I liked it well. Very detailed timeline. $\endgroup$
    – Yaniv
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 23:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I am not pessimist - I am the optimist. I believe that young people grouped in military training camps would be able more effectively deal with gang violence and restore technology (to steam engine level) much faster, withing a decade (and not 100 years), and preserve substantial chunk of knowledge, as I explained in my answer. Sadly I agree that electricity and Internet will not survive. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 1:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @PeterMasiar My comment was not referring to your answer, but to the sentence of bananafacts "This will probably never be read, but I had fun answering it." $\endgroup$
    – Yaniv
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 11:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Regarding the assumptions stated at the beginning about the under-21 population, much of this is a relatively recent phenomenon in human history and, even today, mostly just applies to heavily industrialized nations. In most of the world, it's still perfectly normal for 18-year-olds to have many years of work experience and already be parents. The issues in this answer apply mostly to 'developed' nations. Regarding energy source, though, there's a reason why 'clean' energy didn't come first: it's more complicated. Fossil fuels will probably be the early choice, once again. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 23:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @reirab The problem is that fossil fuels are no longer avaible. In my universe, humanity has faced collapse of the company before the apocalypse because he folded up last on non-renewable resources. After the depletion of oil, there was a period of intense research to make renewable technologies more productive, and therefore renewable resources are the only ones left, apart from the atomic energy and natural gas. $\endgroup$
    – Yaniv
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 12:13

First off, please please please choose something other than a "special type of radiation" from an "unstable nuclear reactor prototype" that caused a "sympathetic detonation" of all nuclear power plants. I almost stopped reading after that point... then realized the whole point of this forum is to give useful feedback.

My guess is that your point isn't so much "radiation kills adults" as it is "nobody lives to be an adult," in which case I'd recommend having a bio-electrical nanobot accident that targets people whose is the perfect breeding ground but doesn't develop to the right maturity until a certain age.

One more note is that you say the internet still works but phones don't. Firstly, they run on nearly the same systems nowadays, so really that's not an issue. However, since the nuclear power plants died, many data centers are going to be offline (after their local backups fail). When those die, any other servers relying on them will start to stray and soon die. Keep in mind that the internet isn't a thing you can set up and forget - it requires varying levels of maintenance by every individual organization on the internet. It WILL start failing fairly quickly. Not to mention that, when the adults died, they took with them the passwords to get into the various servers and server rooms to do maintenance.

But to get to your real question... In the near term, you'll have issues with procreation since young people are more at risk of having issues than people in their 20s. You'll also have the hormone-induced interpersonal drama without any adults to help temper it, so you'll likely quickly have factions form, some of which potentially going to war. It won't be until age 26 or so that the less-aggressive ones can start coming back together.

Since their bodies aren't aging, they'll need some way to distinguish their age (or, as they'll perceive it, their intelligence/seniority), which may be in the form of ranks or shirts with their age written on it.

In the end, though, society would revert to the old-west era of America until the adults' wisdom is recaptured. Except that they'd have a lot more technology that they don't understand and can't fix.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually I think that a "special type of radiation" from an "unstable nuclear reactor prototype" is better for getting such a strange change than anything scientifically defined. $\endgroup$
    – BartekChom
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 15:21
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @BartekChom A special type of wave indeed. Called Hand-Wave. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ Nanomachines are certainly better as apocalypse. But what do you mean when talking about a "Wild West" society? $\endgroup$
    – Yaniv
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Yaniv: I mean it'll be like that from a technological standpoint (i.e. things that don't require a team of 20 to make) and from a societal standpoint (i.e. the rule of law is precariously controlled by a small group trying to establish dominance over the uncontrolled others). $\endgroup$
    – iAdjunct
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ Excuse me, could you take a look at the last edit? I would like to know if I understand the answers that you gave me. $\endgroup$
    – Yaniv
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 1:21

Most likely, it would be highschool, but the world, at least in the beginning, the first 2 or 3 years. You would have almost tribal societies fighting for control of whatever resources there were left, with those in power struggling to maintain control over groups of forever hormonal and unstable people until everyone either came to terms with the fact that society before was gone or was dead. Communication networks and systems would be down, but because of renewable energy, vehicles would be able to continue function. Farming would grow quickly as a source of food with small groups out scavenging for canned goods and other resources. Communities would also be attacked by groups of roaming teenagers for resources or just simply for the fun of it. The population would grow quickly as well, because we all know what happens when you leave teenagers alone in a house for a few hours. Imagine after they're traumatized, extremely stressed, depressed, and there's no one to say "no."

After that they would form, small factions, clans, and so and so, and they would slowly keep growing, until they built large trade networks among themselves. The trade networks would then require communication networks to function properly. This would mean digital libraries and stuff like that would basically become priceless, and become the equivalent to the legends of hidden caves filled with treasure. Basically, these now large factions would have groups of people researching what data they've found and groups of people hunting for old computers. Just because the internet is down, that doesn't mean the data can't be accessed physically. Those nomadic groups would either become huge or be killed off quickly. Leaders would also have to be elected to control these factions. As resources became more scarce, you would have wars breaking out for control of scavenging grounds, digital libraries, communication systems, and farm land. This would be about 10 to 15 years in.

After that, these trade networks would slowly combine factions into become nation-states, like Ancient Greece, with a central form of government. These would become more and more powerful as time went on, with those ever-present and annoying bands of nomads raiding small cities for supplies and providing mercenary services for fighting states. Among the states that had alliances, communications networks and solar/wind farms would be restored by small groups who would reside at the top of the hierarchy, just under government officials. As communication is restored, there would be a boom in trade as safer transport routes were implemented and civilians could travel more easily between cities. At this point, it's 20 to 25 years in, and everyone from the original incident has reached their 21 year old "cap."

From there, communications between nation-states would be implemented. Nomad attacks would be rare. Farming would be industrialized, with whole cities dedicated to farming and feeding people. Digital libraries would decrease in value.

If you're looking for more information on how the social dynamic might look in the beginning few years, read the "Quarantine" trilogy by Lex Thomas and "The Enemy" trilogy by Charlie Higson.

If you're looking for more info on how rebuilding society might work and the timeline, read "The White Flag Of The Dead" series by Joseph Talluto.

And in my opinion, if you're looking to make a good action RPG, I'd set it within the 10 to 15 year range, where you could build an interesting dynamic and watch as the cities developed into nation-states. You can fit a lot of action into fighting for resources and knowledge, and a great story line into watching as nation-states grew.

Hope this helps! :)

  • $\begingroup$ I've read "The enemy", quite good book, but if the world was inhabited only by fifteen then yeah,the human race would be lost. However, could you take a look at the last edit? I would like to know if I understand the answers that you gave me. I've taken materials also from your answer. $\endgroup$
    – Yaniv
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 1:23

First problem, phones and internet work on the same systems. If one doesn't work the other won't either. And both need people to keep them running, power sources and maintenance etc.

Peak oil only means that there is not as much oil able to be produced to meet the demand. This does not mean we've run out.

Radiation that kills would most likely be much more damaging to the young and growing than to the older people.

Blowing up all the nuclear plants on the planet (even sympathetically...) would not have near the juice needed to kill even the vast majority of the people living on the planet. I'm guessing the death toll in the millions, not even the billions. This is already ignoring your magic 'sympathy' and 'special radiation'.

Now if you are just wanting ideas about a society run by the young, you have the Lord of the Flies, and there is a Star Trek episode where a virus slows aging until puberty and then it accelerates and they die shortly after.

You also have things like Logan's Run where people are 'elevated' when they turn 30 (killed off for population control)

The biggest would be we would lose lots of experience, knowledge and wisdom that would take decades to get back.

  • $\begingroup$ "There is a Star Trek episode where a virus slows aging until puberty and then it accelerates and they die shortly after." - this variant should change more. If after the apocalypse people just stop ageing physically after 21 years of age, the only important negative change will be death of all people older than that during the apocalypse. $\endgroup$
    – BartekChom
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @BartekChom I was pointing out story's where there was a loss of the older 'wiser' generations. $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, of course. They all are a bit different and the one from Star Trek probably gives more typical "world populated only by children, teens, and young", that Yaniv seems to desire, than Yaniv's original variant with stop of physical ageing. $\endgroup$
    – BartekChom
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ "phones and internet work on the same systems" - What? Even with 90% servers/cables shutdown, you will be able to reach most of internet thanks to massively redundant routing. Yea it could be slow like hell, but will work longer than phone… EDIT: unless u r special in USA (like always) $\endgroup$
    – Jan Ivan
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 11:36

DISCLAIMER: I'm here because This Question was marked as duplicate of this; I do not agree because there are several differences, including "max age" and "transient effect" that may impact significantly, so I'm not fully sure my Answer will be significant here.

I am not going to give a detailed outline of what it may happen after everybody over 15 suddenly dies, just some food for thought:

  • As @Serban Tanasa pointed out the effect will be profoundly different depending on culture and economic model; Technologically advanced nations will be impacted most (I do not think Japan will manage to continue working in fully automated way; see next point), while pastoral/agricultural(old-style, non intensive) will fare way better, after all 15-year-old boys are considered adult there.
  • Electricity will be gone world-wide in matter of hours (or less). Given the current status of grid and plants at the first non-corrected anomaly some central would get overuse and thus go in emergency power-down, this would reflect negatively on other neighboring plants till the whole grid is down (it really happened a few years ago in Italy, they were without power for over a day in the whole nation before they could begin to restore power). Power restore will not happen automatically.
  • Even with reduced population food reserves in large cities would last just a few weeks. Consider that no electrical power means no refrigerators. There would be scavenging, but that won't last long.
  • No adults (in a sudden catastrophe) means virtually no transportation (underdeveloped countries might fare better, for several reasons).
  • Food production tends to be concentrated in relatively small spots and food industry relies heavily on transportation.
  • Even if youngsters manage to keep some of the farms going (and to defend them) they are in for some nasty surprises: in most places seed won't germinate, since a vast majority of seeds come from seed-industries and those seed will not produce fertile plants.
  • No electricity means no computers and too many youngsters simply do not know how to dig information from printed paper (no stackexchange.com, sorry!). In this case underdeveloped countries would fare worse than "technological" ones.
  • Drugs and medication (contrary to common knowledge) are useful long after their expiration date and thus could last much longer, but there will be virtually none knowing how to use them.
  • In the "sudden death" of all adults scenario there would be a lot of corpses to dispose of, especially in large cities. Diseases during the transition would be terrible.
  • Mortality for youngest (<5y) children would be very high.
  • Most of our machinery is not built to last long and often cannot be repaired at all. Even if some island manages somehow to retain power (I think some real island outfitted with wind + photo voltaic generators like I saw in some of the smaller Aegean islands) they would have very hard time to keep things going for medium-long period. Again underdeveloped countries, being the dump of "old" technology, would fare much better.
  • In few months there would be a population drop down to medieval level (rough estimate is no more than 20% of the people surviving the "catastrophe" would be alive after a year).
  • Residual population will need to regroup in small communities inevitably around a "strong man" of some sort. None will be in condition to survive alone or in small groups.
  • Some groups could form around some kind of "natural resources" (e.g.: large stashes of food, military bases, plants of some sort, isolated farms, etc.). Some of this could try to preserve knowledge, taking the place of medieval Monasteries. In that context finding a copy of the original "Encyclopédie" would be very interesting.
  • It would be a lot of years before the survivors would feel sure enough to try to restore technology; at that point lot will depend on what has been preserved in the meantime, both as machinery and as materials. The latter are particularly important because all natural sources readily available are depleted since decades, if not centuries (we still mine copper... 600meters underground, oil is not much easier to reach; it is better with coal, in some regions).
  • Firearms and weapons will be still very easy to find and, generally, in good shape... for people who will learn to spare ammo, which will be, for a long period, a non renewable resource.
  • Wildlife would flourish, but biodiversity will be limited and striking a "natural balance" might be problematic. Most of domesticated animals are simply unfit to live without human help. In this case the underdeveloped countries would probably be better equipped to exterminate the local fauna before dropping to a sustainable number.
  • As said possible restoration of "civilization" in general and transportation in particular will depend heavily on how long the struggle not to become extinct will prolong and how much is preserved through it. First long distance commerce might well be via caravans.
  • Knowledge would not be lost, since it is copied in too many places, even in paper form. Missing materials and tools will be the challenge, possibly shaping a very different "technology".

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