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Westernization of Arab demography

Yoram Ettinger

Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative”
May 1, 2019,

“The fertility declines recorded in the Arab world over the past 30 years (1988-2018) have been profound, even revolutionary…The Arab world is in the midst of one of the most dramatic fertility declines in world history….From among the highest to among the lowest [fertility levels] in the world…without major economic development or strong family planning programs….” (Prof. Marcia Inhorn, Yale University, Spring/Summer 2018 issue of The Brown Journal of World Affairs).

This dramatic transformation of Arab/Islamic demography was also documented by American Enterprise Institute’s Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt.

In 2019 – in defiance of conventional wisdom and the demographic establishment – the Westernized Arab fertility, throughout the Middle East, is a byproduct of a dramatic transformation of Arab society:

(a) A radical shift from rural (farming) to urban society has drastically reduced Arab families’ need for manpower, resulting in a much smaller nuclear family.

(b) The sweeping switch from rural homes to multi-story urban apartment buildings has decreased the number of children per family.

(c) The unprecedented upgrading of the mindset and status of Arab women – who increasingly complete high school education and (in smaller numbers) pursue college degrees and career – has revolutionized their family role: from early-marriage and baby-production tasking to an equality-seeking adult partner. Unlike the past scenario of marriage at the age of 15, bearing the first child at 16, and producing babies until the age of 55, the current generation of Arab women tend to get married at the age of 20+ and completing the fertility cycle at the age of 45.

(d) The slow – but steady – Westernization of the cultural state of mind of Arab societies has shifted the acceptable structure of Arab families from multi-children to 2-3 children or less.

(e) The substantial proliferation of contraceptives – initiated by the Arab population at-large (including rural areas), not by Arab governments – has reflected the enhanced status of Arab women and the Westernization of social, educational, economic and leisure norms of Arab societies, in general, and Arab women, in particular.

(f) According to the Washington, DC-based Population Reference Bureau, Palestinian women (72%) are second only to Morocco women (78%) in their use of contraceptives. Jordan ranks third – 71% – among Arab countries.

Prof. Marcia Inhorn documents that “seven of the world’s top 15 fertility declines have occurred in Arab countries…. During 1975-1980, women in all 17 Arab nations had TFR far exceeding the world average, which was 3.85 children per woman…. Currently, many Arab countries are heading toward very low fertility, well below replacement level [2.1 babies per woman]…. In many ways, this reproductive revolution is one of the most significant social transformations to have shaped the Arab world….

“What is most impressive about this Arab fertility decline is that it has occurred even in resource-poor Arab nations…. The desire for fewer children on the part of both men and women – has led to the new Arab family…. Knowledge of contraceptive methods among Arab women had become widespread….

“Among the growing Palestinian middle class, small ‘high-quality’ families were the norm…limiting their fertility through contraception in order to invest more time, energy and money into the education and success of each individual child…. Marriage is no longer just about having children…. Arab men want fewer children in order to provide adequate financial support, a good education and paternal love to both their sons and daughters….
“Fertility rates are expected to drop well below replacement level in most Arab countries by the year 2100….”

According to the World Bank, from 1960-2017, the overall Arab World fertility rate was reduced from 6.9 births per woman to 3.3. For example, Egypt – from 6.7 to 3.2, Jordan – from 7.7 to 3.3, Syria – from 7.5 to 2.9, Lebanon – from 5.7 to 1.7, Saudi Arabia – from 7.2 to 2.5, Kuwait – from 7.2 to 2.0, West Bank and Gaza – from 6.7 births per woman in 1990 to 3.9 in 2017 [Gaza’s fertility rate is 1.0 higher than the West Bank’s, which sets the West Bank fertility rate at around 3 births per woman].

Contrary to projections made by prominent demographers and statisticians, the number of Israel’s Jewish births has surged dramatically – 74% – from 1995 (80,400 births) to 2018 (141,000), while the number of births in Israel’s Westernized Arab population has increased moderately – 20% – from 36,000 to 43,000. In 1995, the share of Jewish births, in Israel, was 69%, rising to 76.6% in 2018.

The impressive growth of Israel’s Jewish fertility rate (especially among secular women!) is attributed to a high-level of patriotism, optimism and attachment to roots; expanded fertility treatment; reduced number of abortions; and the low rate of infant mortality (3.1 babies per 1,000 births).

Israel’s Jewish demography (7 million next to 1.6 million Muslims, 140K Druz and 130K Christian Arabs) has also enjoyed annual net-immigration, while Judea & Samaria Arabs (1.85 million) have experienced systematic annual net-emigration (around 20,000 annually in recent years), which has increased since the 1993 establishment of the Palestinian Authority, and especially since the 2000 Second Intifada’.  Moreover, the annual number of Israeli emigrants (exits minus returns) has been reduced substantially from 1990 (14,200) to 2016 (6,300), while Israel’s population almost doubled.

At the same time, the number of Judea and Samaria Arabs has been inflated systematically and dramatically – by over 1.2 million persons – in the following manner:

  1. (In violation of international regulations) The inclusion of over 400,000 people, and their descendants, living outside the Palestinian Authority for more than one year;
  2. The double-count of the 330,000 Jerusalem Arabs, and their descendants, by Israel and the Palestinian Authority;
  3. The double-count of 105,000 Palestinians, and their descendants, who received Israeli citizenship from 1997-2003 by marrying Israeli Arabs. This pathway to citizenship was eliminated, in 2003, by Israel’s Supreme Court.
  4. The Palestinian Authority has ignored the systematic annual net-emigration (20,000 in recent years).
  5. An annual gap of 20,000-60,000 births, from 1997-2011, between the documented data of the Palestinian Ministries of Health and Education, on the one hand, and the higher numbers contended/projected by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, on the other hand.
  6. A Spetember 7, 2006 World Bank report documented a 32% gap between its own birth data and those published by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
The 2019 demographic reality highlights a sweeping and swift Westernization of Arab demography, simultaneously with an unprecedented enhancement of Israel’s Jewish demography. Policymakers and public opinion molders who fail to read the demographic writing (reality) on the wall, are either dramatically mistaken or outrageously misleading, instilling pessimism and vacillation instead of optimism and determination.


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