Thursday, June 14, 2012

Another look at Muslim fertility

In the comments of the recent post on Muslim fertility, Dr. Charlton expresses skepticism about the validity of the study reported. He writes that we should assume that a peer-reviewed study has been conducted by someone who is dishonest or incompetent. I've been reading and conducting research for almost 20 years and agree with his view. That doesn't mean that every study is actually bad, but the publication process in the social sciences is sufficiently corrupt to cause one to be skeptical. This is one reason that I go to the original data if I can.

Let's do that now with fertility data. I went to the Population Reference Bureau and obtained 2011 total fertility rates (TFR) for Muslim-majority countries. TFR is an estimate of the total number of children the average woman will have based on current birth rates.

2011 Total Fertility Rate

Niger 7.0
Mali 6.4
Somalia 6.4
Afghanistan 6.3
Chad 6.0
Burkina Faso 5.8
Nigeria 5.7
Guinea 5.3
Yemen 5.3
Gambia 5.0
Sierra Leone 5.0
Comoros 4.8
Iraq 4.7
Senegal 4.7
Palestinian territory 4.6
Sudan 4.5
Mauritania 4.4
Western Sahara 4.3
Mayotte 4.2
Jordan 3.8
Djibouti 3.7
Pakistan 3.6
Tajikistan 3.4
Oman 3.3
Syria 3.2
Kyrgyzstan 3.0
Egypt 2.9
Saudi Arabia 2.9
Kazakhstan 2.7
Uzbekistan 2.7
Malaysia 2.6
Kosovo 2.5
Libya 2.5
Bangladesh 2.4
Maldives 2.4
Turkmenistan 2.4
Azerbaijan 2.3
Indonesia 2.3
Kuwait 2.3
Algeria 2.3
Morocco 2.2
Lebanon 2.1
Qatar 2.1
Tunisia 2.1
Turkey 2.1

USA 2.0

Bahrain 1.9
Iran 1.9
United Arab Emirates 1.8
Brunei 1.7
Albania 1.4

While the rates are impressively low in some countries--Iran, Turkey, and Indonesia jump out at me--Dr. Charlton is right: the picture is not as rosy as Eberstadt (the author) suggests. While Eberstadt does write that he is focusing on countries outside of sub-Saharan Africa, there are still many countries with high TFRs. Just focusing on the large countries, we could mention Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (which has 180 million people). And Eberstadt does say that, "Throughout the Ummah, fertility levels are falling dramatically." That makes it sounds like things are getting good globally, but look at those sub-Saharan numbers. Nigeria alone has 75 milllion people. With a TFR of 5.7, the country will double in size in a generation. (Nigeria's annual growth rate is 2.27 percent, so using the rule of 72, the country should double in size in  31.7 years.)


  1. There are elements in the Israeli right who claim that the Palestinians falsify their TFR data, and that it's actually lower.

  2. good follow up. though i have to say when it comes to religious demographics bruce is either stupid or ignorant (you can quote me on that, bruce has a repeated record of stupidity and/or ignorance on this issue in my book). not trying to be insulting, but he has as good instincts about this topic as i do about russian literature :-) most people are stupid or ignorant about demographic issues in my opinion. if you disagree with me you think i'm a retard presumably, in which case you should ignore me and go back to drooling in your bib :-)

    two minor notes on fertility:

    - there is a tendency for muslim vs. non-muslim intra-country comparisons to exhibit higher fertility for muslims (check WVS and other sources, it seesms robust). the main exception i think are in africa ('tribal religionists' in most african nations have the highest fertilities cuz they are backward)

    - this was not always true. in the ottoman empire in the mid-to-late 19th century muslims had lower fertility than xians (hint: they were more urbanized).

    - there is a wide gap even between muslim nations of similar sociocultural background. e.g., bangladesh vs. pakistan. one way i think to confound the issue of backwardness vs. natalism is teen vs. post-teen fertility. pakistan has a very high post-teen fertility.

  3. A few points:

    1) Arab fertility in isolation is the real point of this story. If you look at Arab specific fertility from the early 1970s to today it has fallen more than any major population group. Other Muslim groups fertility trends fall more in line with their non-Muslim ethnic counterparts. Nigeria follows sub-Saharan Africa more closely than the Muslims as a whole, as does Indonesia with Southeast Asia and Bangladesh with India.

    2) It's not just the absolute level that matters its the momentum. The United States has 2.1 TFR for the past 40 years. Oman has collapsed from 9.1 TFR to 3.1 TFR in the same time. Oman has a higher overall rate now, but given the trend in 25 years it's highly likely Oman will be below US levels.

    3) Within this story there's another story. The Arab countries specifically, and the Muslim countries in general, who's GDP per capita grew the most had the sharpest drop-off in TRF. The gulf states used to have the highest TRF in the world circa 1965. Since that time they've grown very rich and their TRF has responded by falling to sub-replacement levels. The countries that still have high TRF are those that have stayed poor, like Yemen and Iraq.

    Why does this matter? Because like I've mentioned before the ideologies/ethnic groups that maintain high birth rates in the face of high GDP per capitas will by simple math eventually rule the world.

    Fear of Islam and other poor high birth rate groups (like hispanics in the US) is overblown. Time and time again these groups have demonstrated that once they reach even sub-Western standards of living their birth rates plummet.

    Eventually the rising tide of globalization and technology will lift even the biggest shitholes on the planet to at least a Southern Europe living standard. And with that their high birth rates will fall like dominos.

    The closest thing to the silver bullet of promoting high birth rates in a wealthy environment that I've seen is Mormonism. It seems like in 500 years there's quite a good chance that Salt Lake City is the capital of the world.

  4. When arguing using TFR people must understand what they are using. As Razib noted teen and post teen fertility matter.
    TFR is the mean of children all women from age 15 to age 50 had in the past until today. They are counting the children 50 year old women had from 1962 onward; take away 15 years because they would not had children before 15. They are counting children born in 1977!!!
    A woman having seven children starting from 1977 at 15 years and a woman 25 years old now with no children will give a 3.5 TFR.

    In the past I took the fertility rate of Saudi Arabia values by year and computed the changes. It fell from 7,21 (stable) to 5.84 in 1990.
    The two values have different cohorts (1955-1980 and 1965-1990) of women from 15 to 50 years.
    If you presume the women in the cohort 1965-1980 kept the same fertility, the new cohort of 1980-1990 fall to 3.92 TFR.
    If you do the same for the 1990-2000 the fertility rate fall to 1.24 TFR for the cohort entered after the 1990. It become 1.02 for the cohorts entered after between 2000 and 2010.

    These cohorts are the women between 15 and 25 and they are the main source of children outside the developed world. Given the fall of fertility of women (and men) after 30 and the inability to obtain fertility treatments, I doubts the TFR of the cohorts now between 15 to 25 will go up a lot. So, Saudi Arabia is, for these cohorts just under replacement fertility and will stay there.
    Because of the current financial / economic crisis, I doubt the wealth of the urbanized people in Egyp or Saudi Arabia will allow them to have other children in their 30s and 40s. Second and following children cost less of the first only if they are born a short time after the precedent.

  5. @DR
    IMHO, TFR it is more a function of urbanization and schooling than of wealth.
    In this Islam is not helping, because in Muslims there are no cohabitation and out of wedlock children and the wife return to mom and dad, collect welfare, etc.
    So, if they don't marry, they will not have children.
    I want to see what will happen when the majority of families will have one, max two children. Maybe one male and one female. Jihad doesn't look so good when parents are risking their only male and half of their progeny.

  6. Religion needs to be analyzed in terms of devoutness. According to Eric Kaufman Muslim fertility is high for the most devout, low for the 'moderate' or Westernized Muslims

    Something similar applies to Christians and to Jews - the Christians-in-name-only have low fertility - but the devout and traditional typically are above replacement.

    And the (non contraceptive using) communities cut off from modernity (ultra-Orthodox Jews and Amish, for example) may have very high fertility indeed.

    The only group to have above-replacement fertility in the context of an integrated modern life, including usage of contraception, are devout Mormons. This has been known for US Mormons for a couple of decades, and I have confirmed it in three separate but smallish (and as yet unpublished) surveys of British Mormons - so it seems to be the religion that does it - not the social situation.

  7. "When arguing using TFR people must understand what they are using. As Razib noted teen and post teen fertility matter. TFR is the mean of children all women from age 15 to age 50 had in the past until today."

    There may be different ways to calculate it, but I think these TFRs are based on current age-specific birth rates. So a TFR is the total number of kids a woman would have if she had kids throughout her childbearing period at the rate of women who are currently of childbearing age. So it is reflection of how women are behaving now.

  8. I should restate that. A 2011 TFR is the total number of kids a woman would have if she had kids throughout her childbearing period at the age-specific rate that childbearing-age women had babies in 2011.

  9. You'll all enjoy at TED talk
    Hans Rosling: Religions and babies

  10. The definition of TFR is here:

    "The TFR is, therefore, a measure of the fertility of an imaginary woman who passes through her reproductive life subject to all the age-specific fertility rates for ages 15–49 that were recorded for a given population in a given year. The TFR represents the average number of children a woman would have were she to fast-forward through all her childbearing years in a single year, under all the age-specific fertility rates for that year. In other words, this rate is the number of children a woman would have if she was subject to prevailing fertility rates at all ages from a single given year, and survives throughout all her childbearing years"

  11. Right. The wording is better here, but the meaning is the same as my. It is not based on behavior previous to the target year.

  12. Take Razib's comment with a grain of salt: he is not very mature and gets infantile with everyone -- lots of ad hominem and profanity on his blog.

    Charleton was sharp in picking up that the article basically cherry picked only low birth rate Muslim nations and ignored all the others.

    Population across that part of the world will continue to skyrocket in part because they all have huge youth bulges and considerable demographic momentum.

    And even if they fall to replacement (and right now they are well above this level) this would still be sufficient to vastly increase in relation to Europe with its very low birthrates and negative momentum.

    "Religion needs to be analyzed in terms of devoutness. According to Eric Kaufman Muslim fertility is high for the most devout, low for the 'moderate' or Westernized Muslims"

    A very astute comment. Indeed there have been vast increases in fundamentalism across that part of the world in recent years.

  13. As evidence of how extremely cherry-picked that article was, i notice that the highest fertility on the Berlin Journal list was 2.7.

    Meanwhile the median on your long and comprehensive list of countries is substantially higher than that.

    In other words, they did not include a single representative country in their sample. If you average a small number with a very large number, the small number is irrelevant. Maldives, Brunei, Azerbaijan but no Afghanistan or Pakistan? Really?

  14. It is a realistic possibility that TFR is under-reporting real fertility when a demographic transition is occurring, as is likely now.

    Suppose there are two generations the olds and the youngs. The olds are at the tail end of their childbearing years and the youngs are at the start of theirs.

    Suppose further that the olds tend to have most of their kids at ages 15-25 and the youngs tend to have most of their kids at 26+.

    Then we have a temporary dip when the olds (who may have already had a lot of kids in their lifetime) enter a lower fertility time simultaneous to the youngs delaying their own fertility (when they may have a decent number of kids in the end).

  15. Then we have a temporary dip when the olds (who may have already had a lot of kids in their lifetime) enter a lower fertility time simultaneous to the youngs delaying their own fertility (when they may have a decent number of kids in the end).

    This is technically true only if we suppose the young will only delay the births. But people delaying often delay too much.

    The dipping of the TFR started in the 1970-1980 so we would had see a rebound of fertility if it was only a delayed birth effect.
    There could be a rebound anyway, from some delaying, but it is covered by the massive reduction of fertility overall. This could effectively account for some places with higher fertility. The numbers could have underestimated the fertility in the past but overestimate the fertility now.

    Without detailed numbers is not easy to differ one scenario from the other.

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. Um, Dr. Carlston is kinda missing the forest for the trees matter whose numbers are correct here...fertility has STILL fallen dramatically in the Muslim world over the last few decades and in many of the secular and more modernized (Turkey and Iran come to mind) fertility is inching close to or has already fallen below replacement level..fundamentalist hellholes like Afghanistan and Yemen are extreme outliers..and SSA Muslim countries have high fertility cause they tend to be traditionalist, fundamentalist hellholes too (in northern nigeria for example the average girl marries at 14). about splitting hairs..

  18. Anonymous4:35 AM

    Devout religious people who follow their religion closely have more babies. People who are only nominally religious don't have a lot of babies. That goes for Christians and other patriarchal Abrahamic religions. Devout Hindus seem to have more children as well.

  19. Nigeria has closer to 160 millions, not 75m as you report.

    I'm surprised you let this one slip past.

    - Arturo


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