Birth Rates Falling Dramatically in Muslim Middle East

In 1973, the average Libyan woman had 7.6 children and married at the age of 19.

muslim feminism

The first examples, Libya and Tunisia, are not that definitive. Tunisia was somewhat on the secular side by the standards of the Arab world. Libya. less so, but under Gaddafi it was still leaning away.

In 1973, the average Libyan woman had 7.6 children and married at the age of 19. About three decades later, in 2005, those figures had been transformed into 2.9 and 29 respectively. In Tunisia, we can identify a similar development. Average age for first marriage among women was 22 in 1973, a number that just like in Libya became 29 in 2005.

If we look at Yemen, however, the graph (see above) takes a slightly different turn. Between 1959 and 1980, not much changed in terms of average age for first marriage among women. But the number of children grew drastically from 7.3 to 9. It was not until 1984 that things turned – in 2004 women married at the age of 22 and gave birth to 5.9 children on average.

Interestingly, the West Bank and Gaza have seen a relatively stable curve. In 1968, women entered into marriage at the age of 22, and had 8 children. Almost 40 years later, marriage still happened around the same time, most women were now 23. But the big change took place on the children per woman quota; a stable decrease from 8 children to 4.8.

That's a sharp drop. Some of it may be trickle down culture and standards of living. And in the West Bank and Gaza, the loss of easy access to Israel no doubt robbed them of some useful goodies.

While Muslim countries in Asia have retained high birth rates, Muslim countries in the Middle East are declining sharply. Even Saudi Arabia, which has the wealth, extended families and the conservatism, and which denies women basic educational and work opportunities, went down from 6 to below 3 in just a decade.

The debate over the reasons for the decline is still ongoing and there are few easy answers. But the decline is clearly real. Even when women marry early, the number of children decreases.