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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Friday, May 3, 2013

Has the Birth Rate Really Risen in Egypt?

Today's New York Times carried a story indicating that the "birth rate" in Egypt had risen in 2012 to 32 per 1,000 population, "a rate not seen since 1991". Now, it may be that this has happened, but the story does not include a source for the information. The website for CAPMAS (The Central Agency for Population Mobilization and Statistics--the government statistical office) does not include birth data more recent than 2011--at least not that I could find in English. In 2011, the crude birth rate was 30.4, up from 27.9 in 2010, which was higher than the rate of 24.3 in 2005. So, if we track only the crude birth rate, its rise predates the collapse of the Mubarak government.

What we really need to track, of course, is the total fertility rate (TFR), which has been slowly but steadily declining over time. In 2005, the TFR was 3.13 births per woman, and that had declined to 3.02 by 2010, even though the crude birth rate had risen between those two dates, according to data from the UN Population Division, drawing upon data from the Egypt Demographic and Health Surveys.

Why is the crude birth rate rising while the TFR is declining? The answer lies in the age structure. Although fertility has been declining in Egypt, it is still well above replacement level, as noted above. With the average woman having three children, there is an ever larger number of young women coming of age to have children. This drives up the annual number of births and thus the crude birth rate.

Even if the NY Times is a bit alarmist, it is nonetheless very problematic if the current government of Morsi has gutted the family planning program or intends to do that. Even under Mubarak, the program had not been able to bring down the birth rate to a level commensurate with the growth (or lack thereof) of the Egyptian economy. The country remains a place where continued population growth threatens the well-being of the average Egyptian family. One way in which we will know how the government feels about the birth rate will be whether or not the next round of the Egyptian Demographic and Health Survey is actually implemented. The surveys have been conducted every 3-5 years since 1988, so by that schedule, the next one should be this year.


  1. You write as if we have any credible evidence on the causal link between birth rate/population growth and economic growth. That is not the case. I am not saying the link does not exist. We just do not have any evidence to conclude. The best research could, at best, establish that they are not connected.

  2. I review the evidence in Chapter 11 and conclude that it is extremely unlikely that high rates of population will lift a country's economy. A rapidly growing economy will typically attract migrants and thus may experience population growth, but population growth per se will slow down an economy.

    1. I am aware of your book. I just cannot understand your insisting to draw a causal inference from a correlation. We just do not have appropriate data for this, and there are tons of other variables millions of selection issues that are very likely to create such a correlation. You can easily build a model supporting your argument but this is something that the data are not able to say. Such claims are, in general, politically motivated. Good day.

  3. Thanks for the article John, great to see you covering this from the population angle - it's the everything issue and economically, stable populations have been shown to perform better in all respects. Ecologically, the benefits of a stable population are self-inherent.

    I don't think there is much doubt that governments (typically lobbied by vested interests retailers, banks, developers etc) set policy to ensure population growth. In the developed countries, if not for high levels of immigration, populations would mostly be either stabilising or in decline.

    I think there's a fairly reasonable correlation between population growth and what is very loosely considered economic growth given that economic growth is measured with the very narrow metric of GDP. However, through mirage economics, GDP continues to largely track population growth because expenditure on things like infrastructure contribute to GDP. If I do my neighbours laundry and they do mine, that contributes to GDP. So in crude terms, the more people the higher the GDP.

    But as soon as you recognise the ecological and economic costs of population growth, the balance sheet quickly changes and the true flaw in GDP as a measure of economic health is exposed as one horrendous ponzi scheme.

    In countries with higher fertility rates such as Egypt, immigration is not required to ensure growth but the mechanisms at play insofar as GDP is concerned still apply. IIRC Egypt started to move from a net exporter of oil to a growing importer from around 1960 when they were around 40 million. Now at around 80 million with little domestic oil reserves, they are almost entirely dependent on oil imports, around 50% dependent on food imports and water security is very much a major issue; noting Ethiopia have made noise about damming the Nile.

    Best wishes