Arnold Kling

Demographic Transition

Arnold Kling, Great Questions of Economics
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Economists speak of the "demographic transition," in which economic development eventually leads to slower population growth. Jeffrey Sachs argues that one indication of diversity within the Islamic world is that some countries have undergone the demographic transition while others have not.

In some parts of the Islamic world, most notably in the Arabian peninsula, the fertility rate remains very high. A woman in Yemen will on average give birth to more than 7 children in her lifetime. In Saudi Arabia, the average is over 6 children. In other parts of the Islamic world, the fertility rate is far lower and has declined in recent decades, signaling a major shift in cultural norms. In Tunisia, the average fertility rate has dropped from 6.2 in the 1970s to 2.3 today, just slightly above the 2.0 average in the US. Similarly, in Turkey the fertility rate fell from 5.2 in the early 1970s to 2.7 in the late 1990s. In Indonesia, the decline in fertility rates was about the same.

Discussion Question. If the demographic transition is a sign of economic development, then these data suggest that Yemen and Saudi Arabia are underdeveloped, in spite of the oil wealth in the region. Does that seem reasonable?

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