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 13th (it will be out in January 2020), 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, January 23, 2015

The Scary Demographics of Yemen

Political turmoil, yet again, in Yemen was today's front page news. From a political standpoint, the country seems to be in sort of a proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia (and the U.S.) against Iran. But underlying this tension is the fuel allowing it to burn--a young population that can't be supported by the economy. Here's the list of the countries in the Middle East with the highest percentages of the population under age 15 (as an index of a youthful population): Yemen, West Bank and Gaza (Palestine), and Iraq. All of them have 39 percent of the population under age 15. The next highest (not adjusting for refugees who have left the country) is Syria at 35 percent. By comparison, the figure in the U.S. is 19 percent and it is 13 percent in Germany and Japan. Saudi Arabia shares a border with both Yemen (nearly as populous as Saudi Arabia) and Iraq (more populous than Saudi Arabia), so you can appreciate that Saudi Arabia's government--which changed today as one old guy replaced his even older half-brother--is very concerned about what's happening in Yemen as its government changed under less auspicious circumstances. Of course, an autocratic government led by a succession of sons of the modern country's founder and who are sitting on and controlling one of the world's biggest oil reserves has the advantage over its southern neighbor, even if the latter is also an oil producer. 

A big demographic advantage that Saudi Arabia has over Yemen, Iraq, Syria and the Palestinians is that Saudi Arabian women have reduced their fertility over the past few decades, thus putting less pressure on current and future resources. Saudi Arabia's total fertility rate has dropped from 5.5 children per woman in 1990 to an estimated 2.4 in 2015--one of the lowest in the region. By contrast, Yemen has gone from 5.9 to 3.6 in that same time period, West Bank and Gaza from 6.6 to 3.7, Iraq from 5.6 to 3.8, and Syria from 4.8 to 2.8. These still very high births are not good signs for the future of this region.

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