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, May 5, 2017

The Cultural Demography of Arab Society

This week's Economist has a very interesting article discussing gender roles in Arab society. The subtitle of the story  is "the sorry state of Arab men," but to me this is a story about how demography and culture interact.
A new survey by the UN and Promundo, an advocacy group, examines Arab men’s views on male-female relations... It finds that around 90% of men in Egypt believe that they should have the final say on household decisions, and that women should do most of the chores.
So far, so predictable. But the survey sheds new light on the struggles of Arab men in the four countries studied (Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Palestine) and how they hinder progress towards equality. At least two-thirds of these men report high levels of fear for the safety and well-being of their families. In Egypt and Palestine most men say they are stressed or depressed because of a lack of work or income. Women feel even worse, but for Arab men the result is a “crisis of masculinity”, the study finds.
Far from relaxing their patriarchal attitudes, Arab men are clinging to them. In every country except Lebanon, younger men’s views on gender roles do not differ substantially from those of older men. There may be several reasons for this, but the study suggests that the struggle of young Arab men to find work, afford marriage and achieve the status of financial provider may be producing a backlash against assertive women. In other words, male chauvinism may be fuelled by a sense of weakness, not strength.
My interpretation of what is happening in these societies is that past population growth--fueled by birth rates that have not dropped as quickly as child mortality rates--has not been met by equally rapid economic growth. The region really does not have the resources to support the population that currently lives there, unless you are one of the lucky ones with oil reserves, and even that won't last forever. That is the source of weakness that helps to perpetuate traditional attitudes of patriarchy. And keep in mind that these traditional gender role ideas are not peculiar to Arab society--we find them all over the world, including in places here in the U.S. They also popped up in an article just published yesterday in Demographic Research, in which the authors report on their interviews with second-generation Turkish-Germans who find "refuge" in Antalya, Turkey--a Mediterranean seaside resort town in southwest Turkey where some of them have escaped from the traditional family attitudes that prevail among Turkish immigrants (their parents) in Germany. Hmm, this is more complicated than I thought...

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