Economic Analysis and Policy Implications of Fertility in Middle East and North African Countries

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ABSTRACT

This paper attempts to provide an economic analysis of fertility interrelationships using pooled cross-country data from the Middle East and North African region, 1982-2000. Regression results provide strong confirmation that family planning, urbanisation and female labour force participation rates are inversely related to fertility rates. Income, infant mortality rates and female education are found to have a strong positive correlation with fertility. The results of several variables are also consistent with the results obtained in earlier studies involving countries and regions other than the Middle East and North Africa. Some policy implications are drawn.

INTRODUCTION

The twenty countries in the Middle East and the North Africa (MENA) region had a combined population of approximately 283 million in 1997 (The World Bank, 1999, Table 1), contributing to approximately 4.9 percent of world total population. The majority of the countries are in the middle- income and medium human development categories (Table 1). The overall level of economic development of MENA is comparatively much better than many regions elsewhere (UNDP, 1999, Table 1). The level of achievement in per capita incomes and human development is largely attributable to several of the MENA countries rich natural resource base. Theoretically, as countries become rich, they tend to go through a demographic transition in which fast-improving medical conditions and high birth rates combine to give rapid population growth, a phenomenon that characterised most of Asia almost thirty years ago (The Economist, September 13, 1997). Demographic indicators provide evidence of similar demographic transitions taking place in several of the MENA countries (Table 2).

Although the indicators of per capita income and human development look satisfactory for MENA, the population and population growth rate give cause for concern. Although MENA ranks the lowest in terms of the share of total world population, such is not the case in terms of the growth rate (World Bank, 1999, Table 1). MENA annual average population growth rate of 3.0 percent during 19902000 period was the highest when compared with East Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and Caribbean, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Although annual average population growth rate declined to 2.5 percent in the 1990-97 period, it was second to that of Sub-Saharan Africa which recorded a growth rate of 2.7 percent (The World Bank, 1 999, Table 3) during the same period. Almost all MENA countries experienced higher population growth rates than 1.5 percent, the world average (Table 1).

While it is noted that the transition from a less developed economy to one which is more developed is not only feasible and can be attained in a relatively short period of time (Stiglitz, 1996), the MENA high rate of population growth can have a retarding effect on the pace of the development process. Of main importance is the high fertility rates in MENA. High rates of fertility can have several direct effects on a country's long-term development: contribute to lower standard of living; reduces per capita land and resource availability; greater under-employment and open unemployment; demand pressures on social capital like education, health and housing; increases dependency; environmental destruction and contributes to inequalities in income distribution (Ghatak, 1995, pp. 231-233).

Data in Table 2 shows MENA fertility rate trends. For the high-income countries, the fertility rates in 1980 were above 1.9, the average for all of the high-income countries (The World Bank, 1999, Table 7). In 1996, after a span of fifteen years, the average fertility rate for high-income countries was 1 .7 (The World Bank, 1999, Table 7). In the same year, for United Arab Emirates, the fertility rate was 3.5, many times higher than 1.7. While the fertility statistic for 1996 is not available for Qatar and Kuwait, it is quite likely that they followed similar patterns as noted for the United Arab Emirates. …