Fertility Decline in the Muslim World: A Demographic Sea Change Goes Largely Unnoticed
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 (un terminology). But such notions speak to a bygone era; they are utterly uninformed by the important new demographic realities that reflect today’s life patterns within the Arab world, and the greater Islamic world as well.
Throughout the Ummah, or worldwide Muslim community, fertility levels are falling dramatically for countries and subnational populations — and traditional marriage patterns and living arrangements are undergoing tremendous change. While these trends have not gone entirely unnoticed, no more than a handful of pioneering scholars and observers have as yet drawn attention to them and their potential significance.1 In this essay we will detail the dimensions of these changes in fertility patterns within the Muslim world, examine some of their correlates and possible determinants, and speculate about some of their implications.
THE GLOBAL MUSLIM POPULATION
There is some inescapable imprecision to any estimates of the size and distribution of the Ummah — an uncertainty that turns in part on questions about the current size of some Muslim majority areas (e.g., Afghanistan, where as one U.S. official country study puts it, “no comprehensive census based upon systematically sound methods has ever been taken”), and in part on the intrinsic difficulty of determining the depth of a nominal believer’s religious faith, but more centrally on the crucial fact that many government statistical authorities do not collect information on the religious profession of their national populations. For example: While the United States maintains one of the world’s most extensive and developed national statistical systems, the American government expressly forbids the U.S. Census Bureau from surveying the American public about religious affiliation; the same is true in much of the eu, in the Russian Federation, and in other parts of the “more developed regions” with otherwise advanced data-gathering capabilities.
Nevertheless, on the basis of local population census returns that do cover religion, demographic and health survey (dhs) reports where religious preference is included, and other allied data-sources, it is possible to piece together a reasonably accurate impression of the current size and distribution of the world’s Muslim population.