Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Monday, March 28, 2005
Apropos of absolutely nothing, here's a list of predominantly Muslim countries, and their fertility rates as estimated by the CIA World Factbook.

(I've organized these roughly by geography)

North African Coast:

Morocco: 2.81
Algeria: 2.04
Tunisia: 1.79
Libya: 3.42
Egypt: 2.95

West Africa:

Mauritania: 6.01
Mali: 6.58
Chad: 6.38
Niger: 6.83
Nigeria: 5.32
Burkina Faso: 6.28
Senegal: 4.84
Gambia: 5.46
Guinea: 5.87

East Africa:

Sudan: 4.97
Eritrea: 5.67
Djibouti: 5.48
Somalia: 6.91


Turkey: 1.98
Syria: 3.61
Lebanon: 1.95
Jordan: 2.86
Judea/Samaria: 4.52 (NOTE: these figures have come under challenge recently)
Gaza: 6.04 (NOTE: these figures have come under challenge recently)

South Asia:

Iraq: 4.40
Iran: 1.93
Azerbaijan: 2.39
Pakistan: 4.29
Bangladesh: 3.15

Central Asia:

Kazakhstan: 1.90
Kyrgyzstan: 2.71
Uzbekistan: 2.97
Turkmenistan: 3.45
Tajikstan: 4.11
Afghanistan: 6.98


Saudi Arabia: 4.11
Kuwait: 3.03
Bahrain: 2.67
Qatar: 2.95
United Arab Emirates: 3.02
Oman: 5.90
Yemen: 6.75

Southeast Asia:

Malaysia: 3.10
Indonesia: 2.47


Albania: 2.05
Bosnia: 1.71

Does anyone notice any pattern here?

One is really obvious: black African countries have very high fertility.

Another one that seems clear: so do very poor countries (Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan. etc.). There's a lot of overlap between the first pattern and the second, of course. The lowest fertility rates in the list above: Tunisia, Turkey, Iran, Kazakhstan (which has a very large Russian minority; I suspect that their fertility is well below the Kazakh fertility rate), Lebanon (ditto vis-a-vis the Maronite Christian population) and Bosnia. These are all also among the wealthiest countries on the list on a GDP-per-capita basis; moreover, none are natural-resource welfare states like Saudi Arabia (a relatively wealthy state with high fertility). Correlation, of course, does not imply causation, nor does it tell you whether the arrow of causation, if one exists, goes one way or the other.

Some things that don't seem to correlate: ethnicity (Turkmen have high fertility and Turks low; Iraqis high fertility and Jordanians relatively low; Omanis high fertility and Bahrainis - another Shiite oil state - relatively low), religious sect (Iranians and Omanis: both Shiites, wildly different fertility rates; same thing with predominantly Sunni Tunisia versus Afghanistan) and political system. The last should be a surprise to those who have argued that, for example, religious coersion or political repression are the causes of either low or high fertility. In Iran, a repressive religious establishment coexists with low fertility; in Saudi Arabia, with high fertility. In each case, some commentators have been inclined to credit/blame that religious/political environment for the general fertility rate. On the other side, Algeria ruthlessly suppressed its Islamist movement, at a cost of tens of thousands of lives. It has one of the lowest fertility rates. So did Saddam's Iraq and Assad's Syria. They have some of the higher Arab state fertility rates.

Demography is a weird science. In some sense, demography is clearly destiny; if, say, you have twice as many Muslim babies today as Christian in a given country, while the ratio of adults is reversed, you know that the country is going to change in certain fundamental ways. But demographic trends can also change surprisingly quickly. Look at Catholic Europe:

Austria: 1.35
Croatia: 1.39
Italy: 1.27
Poland: 1.38
Spain: 1.27

These are some of the lowest fertility rates in the world. And it wasn't long ago that anti-Catholic groups used to fret about Catholics out-breeding Protestants. It's also noticeable that the recent history of these countries is pretty diverse. The list includes a country (Spain) that emerged a generation ago from a Catholic and pro-natalist dictatorship; another (Poland) that personified Catholic resistance to Communist oppression; others (Austria, Italy) that have been free and prosperous since their recovery from World War II; and another (Croatia) that but recently was effectively engaged in a demographic war (as well as a literal shooting war) with its neighbors over a religious/ethnic difference.

I'm not suggesting that religion or politics are epiphenomena. But it does seem like explanations of demographic trends that start with these variables run the risk of having to turn on a dime when, rather suddenly, the demography changes.