This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Population Growth is the Big Issue in the Middle East

As the legal battle continues over the Trump administration's travel ban from seven Middle Eastern countries, it is instructive to remember that the basic underlying issue is not religion, per se, but rather population growth. Every religion in the world has its fanatics who resist change, especially modernization (aka "westernization"). But people get more riled up when the population is growing faster than the economy can create jobs. The trouble spots in the world are almost all places with recent histories of rapid population growth. I thought of that today when I ran into a summary of my comments at a Congressional Briefing back in 1991 co-sponsored by Senators Timothy Wirth (D. Colorado) and Nancy Kassebaum (R. Kansas) and organized by the Population Resource Center and the Population Association of America. The title of the program was "Population Trends and the Middle East: Implications for Long-Term Stability. I was there with Nazli Choucri from MIT and John Waterbury from Princeton and we all had the same message--rapid population growth accentuated by very youthful populations in a region with limited water supplies portends trouble. It did then, and it still does. 

We are today contending with the very high birth rates and low levels of female empowerment that existed in the region less than three decades ago. Look at this chart that I prepared for the meeting (keeping in mind that technology then produced less good-looking graphs than we can now generate):

Each bar shows the percentage of girls of school age who were enrolled in school in 1987 (the most recent data available at the time). Only Israel and Kuwait had anything close to what we might expect of a society that has empowered girls to be full contributors to the economy and polity. The number in parentheses is the total fertility rate--the number of children being born per woman in her lifetime. More than half of these countries had numbers greater than 6 children per woman! This is the legacy with which we are coping today--a lot of young people brought up by mothers who were kept out of the educational loop. But, instead of insuring that women are offered at least some reproductive health care options, the Trump administration simply wants to turn America's back on these people. A better and safer future is to make sure that girls and boys alike are well educated and that, when they become adults, they have the means to have the number of children they really want and can afford.  This is what ultimately ensures peace and thus lowers the likelihood of refugee movements.

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