Muslim World Faces Devastating Fertility Decline

By Austin Ruse

(NEW YORK -C-FAM) Fertility rates of Muslim populations around the world have almost literally fallen off a cliff, so steep has been their decline. Policy makers at the UN and elsewhere have barely noticed this.

“There remains a widely perceived notion — still commonly held within intellectual, academic, and policy circles in the West and elsewhere — that ‘Muslim’ societies are especially resistant to embarking upon the path of demographic and familial change that has transformed population profiles in Europe, North America, and other ‘more developed’ areas,” write Nicholas Eberstadt and Apoorva Shah in the June 1 issue of Policy Review.

It is generally thought that Muslim fertility rates are growing by leaps and bounds. This has fed into the panic about growing Muslim influence, especially in Europe. While Eberstadt and Shah do not deal specifically with Muslims in Europe, they do point out that fertility rates have declined all over the Muslim world and that predominantly Muslim countries have taken a steeper dive than any countries in history.

Using data from the UN Population Division, which projects fertility rates for 190 countries, Eberstadt and Shah “appraise the magnitude of fertility declines in 48 of the world’s 49 identified Muslim-majority countries and territories.” The data show that “forty-eight Muslim-majority countries and territories witnessed fertility decline over the past three decades.”

When absolute fertility decline is examined, Eberstadt and Shah show “a drop of an estimated 2.6 births per woman between 1975 and 1980 and 2005 and 2010 — a markedly larger absolute decline than estimated for either the world as a whole (-1.3) or the less developed regions as a whole (-2.2) during those same years.” They point out that “Fully eighteen of these Muslim-majority places saw (total fertility rates) fall by three or more over those 30 years–with nine of them by four births per woman or more.”

Eberstadt and Shah point out that in terms of relative fertility decline, “the estimated population-weighted average for Muslim-majority areas as a whole was -41 percent over these three decades.” They show that “22 Muslim-majority countries and territories were estimated to have undergone fertility declines of 50 percent or more during those three decades–ten of them by 60 percent or more. For both Iran and the Maldives, the declines in total fertility rates over those 30 years were estimated to exceed 70 percent.”

Out of the ten biggest declines in total fertility rates in the post-war era “six have occurred in Muslim-majority countries” say Eberstadt and Shah.

Eberstadt and Shah point out several implications to this reality of rapid fertility reduction in the Muslim world. The UN population projections will have to follow suit. In 2000, the UN projected 102 million Yemenis by the year 2050. This estimate was reduced to 62 million ten years later.

Eberstadt and Shah say there is a “coming decline in working-age (15-64) population.” They say the Muslim world will face increasing and crippling manpower shortages. They also project rapidly aging populations such as is experienced in the far-richer European countries.

The authors are perplexed that other experts at the UN or even in the Muslim countries themselves do not discuss this galloping problem.

Austin Ruse is President of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a New York and Washington DC-based research institute ( His article first appeared in the Friday Fax, an internet report published weekly by C-FAM.

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