Muslim fertility rates dropping significantly
July 3, 2012 | Jewish Tribune
WASHINGTON – After delving into the untouched topic of Muslim fertility rates, Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt, senior adviser to the National Bureau of Asian Research in Seattle, and Henry Wendt, chair in political economy at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, came across something that they say has been entirely overlooked.
According to his article, Fertility Decline in the Muslim World, Dr. Eberstadt’s findings have shown that in the past three decades, fertility rates in Muslim majority countries have gone down from 50 to 70 per cent. While the average birth rate among Muslim women used to be 4.5 to 5.3 births per woman, per lifetime, Eberstadt has revealed that from 2005 to 2010, that number has dropped to 2.6 births.
Having studied demography for more than 40 years, Dr. Eberstadt has taken into account that many surveys do not inquire about religious affiliation, making it nearly impossible to collect data based entirely on one religion group.
“Many, if not most, countries [have] no religion affiliation adherence questions in their censuses,” explained Eberstadt. “[However], in almost all low income countries, there are going to be surveys called DHS surveys (demographic and health surveys) done for the population as a whole, which focus upon fertility and births.”
Eberstadt said that there are nearly 49 countries known as Muslim-majority countries in the world, made up of more than 90 per cent Muslims.
“In an awful lot of these places, whatever the average fertility rate for the society as a whole [is], it will be pretty close by process of arithmetic to what the Muslim [fertility] rate is.”
Attempting to predict the Muslim fertility rate in the future, however, is not something that comes easily.
“Demographers have never developed a reliable technique for forecasting fertility rates in the future with any accuracy,” Eberstadt said. “What we have seen so far [though], is that expectations have been confounded by the really rapid turn and drop in fertility in Muslim countries.”
Touching on a politically sensitive issue, Eberstadt said that Arab societies might have some control in how this fertility drop will affect the rest of the world.
“An awful lot is going to depend on things that are imponderable,” he said. “Will Arab societies open up their economies in such a way as to be able to capitalize upon their human resources and globalize, or are they going to remain stifled and corrupt?”
What this means for the Israeli population and Jews around the world is yet to be determined. However, Dr. Eberstadt has an opinion.
“The most rapid and radical decline in fertility seems to be taking place in the Arab-speaking world. There are a number of Arab countries now that have birthrates significantly lower than the Israeli and Jewish fertility levels. It’s been a kind of cross over that’s occurred,” he said. “Iran has barely half the birthrate of Jerusalem at this point.” With Israeli politics over the past decade predicating on the idea that the Muslim population would eventually have a higher fertility rate than the Israeli and Jewish populations, according to Eberstadt, things may begin to change. Given the slight increase in Israeli fertility, and the steady decline in Muslim fertility, Eberstadt doesn’t really know what are the possible implications.
“I don’t know what all of this is going to mean for the societies or social cohesion. It was unpredicted by almost everybody and it was so unexpected that it’s been hiding in plain sight. But it is a big change and it’s happening really fast.”