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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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Fertility and Religion in the Middle East

A couple of days ago I discussed Iran's "eye-popping" demographics--rapid population growth followed by a state-sponsored (but not mandated) drop in fertility. That blog post elicited two good comments that are worthy of contemplation. 

First, Duane Miller noted that Iran now has the fastest aging population in the world. I haven't had time to verify that it is the fastest, but there is no doubt from United Nations Population Division data that it is fast. Indeed, by the middle of this century, the UNPD projects that 23% of Iran's population will be 65+. This is similar to where Japan, Italy, and Spain (among others) are right now, so at least Iran will have some role models.

And then Alex commented on the fact that Iran's neighbor, Azerbaijan, has demographics similar to Iran's, but is more secular than Iran. This is where demography, culture, and geography all intersect. There are only four countries in the world with majority-Shiite Muslim populations: Iran, Azerbaijan, Iraq, and Bahrain. Azerbaijan shares Iran's northern border, Iraq shares Iran's western border, and the only thing that separates Iran from Bahrain is the Persian Gulf. Bahrain and Azerbaijan have fertility levels that have dropped to just below replacement level (right around 2 children per woman), whereas the estimate for Iran is 1.6 children per woman. By contrast, Iraq's fertility (4.3) shows that religion is not determinative in the region. Of course, before the U.S. invaded Iraq, the predominantly Shiite population was ruled by the Sunni Muslim Saddam Hussein. Toppling him helped give rise to the Sunni-based Islamic State, which then riled things up in Syria, where a predominantly Sunni population is led by Bashar al-Assad, who is a member of the Shiite Alawite sect. The U.N. estimates that women there are having 2.8 children each, which is a bit higher than in Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, back to the north of Iran, Armenia is almost entirely Christian and it has a fertility level almost identical to Iran's (1.6), while just to the north of Armenia and Azerbaijan is Georgia, which is  also predominantly Christian and which has a fertility level almost identical to that in Azerbaijan.

I haven't forgotten that Turkey share's Iran's northwestern border. Turkey's fertility level is right at replacement, but the interesting thing here is eastern Turkey--which abuts Iran--has the highest levels of fertility in Turkey, whereas fertility in the western part of the country around Istanbul is about the same as the low level in Iran.

The point here is that we all (and I include me in that!) have to be careful about making too many generalizations, especially in that extremely complicated part of the world.

1 comment:

  1. Some news from Bulgaria: