Fertility Rates in the Middle East on the Decline

Earlier this week Neil MacFarquhar posted an entry on Dot Earth drawing attention to a new UN report showing that 8 of the 15 countries in the world with the fastest declining fertility rates are in the Middle East.  Iran leads the pack, showing that family planning techniques can work even in societies with socially conservatives mores.

The countries with the biggest change are those that have pushed to provide information to both wives and husbands, even in rural areas, about the various methods of contraception that are available, she said. Once women are given some right to chose, it is almost inevitable that they have fewer children.

From 1975 to 1980, women in Iran were giving birth to nearly 7 children per family, according to the latest U.N. population report; from 2005 to 2010 that number is expected to be less than 2. Other Middle Eastern states in the top 15, in order of the steepest drop, include Tunisia, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, Libya, Kuwait, Qatar and Morocco.

Why does this matter?  For one, there is a youth bulge in the developing world that threatens the stability of states and stretches the limit of what the environment and ecosystems can sustain.   This is particularly true in the Middle East, so news like this is truly refreshing.  More broadly, there are an estimated 70 to 80 million unintended pregnancies in the developing world each year. One proven way to reduce these numbers is through education programs and policies that specifically target adolescent girls.  When young women attain higher levels of education, whole communinties become transformed.    This is called the Girl Effect.