Searching for Demographic Transition in the Muslim World


Though this trend has obviously been going on for a while, it's news to me, as discussed by Philip Jenkins at RealClearReligion: the Muslim world isn't monolithically out-reproducing the decadent West:

In just the last thirty years or so, those very Middle Eastern countries that used to teem with children and adolescents have gone through a startling demographic transformation. Since the mid-1970s, Algeria's fertility rate has collapsed from over 7 to 1.75, Tunisia's from 6 to 2.03, Morocco's from 6.5 to 2.21, Libya's from 7.5 to 2.96. Today, Algeria's rate is roughly equivalent to that of Denmark or Norway; Tunisia's is comparable to France…..

Just what is happening here? Everything depends on the changing attitudes and expectation of the women in these once highly-traditional societies. Across the region, women have become increasingly involved in higher education, and have moreover moved into full-time employment. That sea-change simply makes it unthinkable for women to manage a rampaging tribe of seven or eight children. Often, too, images of women's proper role in life have been upended by extended contacts with Europe. Migrants to France or Italy return home with changed attitudes, while families who stay at home find it hard to avoid the media portrayals of Western lives they see via cable and satellite dish. Maybe Europe and the Middle East are merging into one common Eurabia—but it's far from clear which side is doing a better job of imposing its opinions on the other. Presently, it looks as if the Maghreb is becoming European.

This could be good news for those who fear a thousand-year war with Islam (except that lots of those folks hate Europe as well…..)

Such a wrenching change cannot fail to have political implications. In a country with a Third World fertility rate, it is very unlikely that women will seek or be granted education: their designated career path as mothers is starkly clear. Meanwhile, adolescents and young men proliferate, and provide ample cannon fodder for armies or militias, to whom life is cheap. (Yemen's fertility rate is still over 5.0, Somalia's is 6.4). But then imagine a newer, more European society, in which men and women are intensely concerned about their nuclear families, and have invested their love and attention into just one or two offspring. As citizens become more educated, they are not prepared to accept the demagoguery and systematic corruption that has long passed for government in those regions…..

If the European precedent is anything to go by, that could well provide a model for religious developments in the Maghreb over the next decade or two. A society so dependent on women in the school and the workplace simply cannot support the kind of intransigent orthodoxies offered by the familiar Islamists. Extremists may not vanish overnight, but they will have to adapt substantially to present their message in a civil society with a powerful taste for democratic values and gender equality.

This trend as yet only applied to part of the Muslim world, but it is in line with general human population trends–with growth slowing–as Ronald Bailey has pointed out here at Reason.