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Demographic Changes In Muslim Countries
Jan 2013

According to the UN's estimates, the world's population will increase in the next two decades from its current level of 7 billion to 8.3 billion However discussions about global population changes must take note of two facts : One, the impact of the increasing world population on the exhaustible natural resources and climatic changes and consequences thereof. Two, while the population on the continent of Europe has been on the decline and the authorities there are concerned about the ageing phenomenon; the population in the Muslim world has been increasing quite fast. Professors Hans Groth of the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland and Asfonso Sousa-Poza of the University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany have now brought out a collection of essays written by experts on Population Dynamics in Muslim Countries, Springer Heidelberg Dordrecht, London, 2012. Those who have contributed to the volume are from Australia, Jordan, Switzerland, USA, Turkey, Belgium, Singapore, Egypt, Lebanon, Canada, Austria, Nigeria, Pakistan, Germany and Iran.

The write-up that follows is based on the above research studies.

Population Overview 

(In Millions)
2010 2030 % change over 2010
Global population (193 Nations) 6,909 8,309 20.3
Organization of the Islamic
Conference (57 members)
1,588 2,150 35.4
EU-15, Norway, Switzerland 407 422 3.7

The Muslim population, as a percentage of the global population is expected to go up from 23 percent in 2010 to 27 percent by 2030. In the same period, in absolute terms, it is expected to rise from 1.6 billion to over 2 billion. Needless to say, such developments have important geopolitical implications.

The Size and distribution of World Muslim Population : The size and distributions of the world's population adhering to Islam (the Ummah) is not precise by international standards. However, an estimate has been prepared under the aegis of the World Christian Data Base and the other by a team of researchers for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The former puts the population at 1.42 billion Muslims for the year 2005 and the latter at around 1.57 billion for the year 2009. In percentage terms, Muslims account for 22 percent and 23 percent of the population respectively. Of the total, 73 percent of the Muslims live in Muslim majority countries as per the World Christian Data base and nearly 80 percent according to the Pew Form Study. In all, eight countries today account for over 60 percent of the world's Muslim population : Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran and Turkey. 


Demographics and social scientists have tried to explain changes in fertility rates as a result of changes in socioeconomic trends. A century of social science research finds a correlation between fertility decline resulting from increasing income levels, educational attainment, urbanization, public health improvements et al. For example : In respect of female literacy, modern contraceptive use, per capita income, and infant mortality, the simple coefficients of determination for fertility levels exceed 60 percent for countries in the less developed regions. Research studies have revealed that the critical determinant of fertility levels in Muslims and non-Muslim societies alike are attitudinal and volitional, changes rather than material and mechanist. To put it in other words : An approach that focuses on parental attitudes and desires, their role in affecting behavior that results in achieved family size. The attitudes about desired family size, can undergo change even with or without marked socioeconomic change. Thus, it is seen that the attitudinal changes explain much better the variations in fertility rates and its impact on the total population size of a country/or a religion.

Fertility Decline in Muslim-Majority Countries, 1975-2005

A number of authoritative institutions such as the United Nations Population division (UNDP) and the United States Census Bureau regularly estimate and project population trends for all countries in the world. The data collected and analyzed in respect of 48 Muslim-majority countries reveals the following:

The data given above shows that six of the largest absolute declines in fertility have occurred in Muslim-majority countries. These extraordinary declines in fertility rates of the Muslim countries have brought them on par with the child-bearing patterns of contemporary affluent western non-Muslim nations. Figure given below further underscores the similarity between contemporary birth levels in most parts of the Ummah and of the States in the United States of America.

Just as fertility varies among the 50 States of America, so it differs by regions in many predominantly Muslim societies. For example : Turkey's total fertility rate (TFR) for the period 2000-2003 was 2.23. The overall, however, was strongly influenced by the high fertility level of eastern Turkey which stood at 3.65. On the contrary, in much of Turkey, TFR was 1.9 or less. However, there are some Muslim countries where the fertility levels are higher than in the present day America.



Indonesia is the home of the largest Muslim population in the world. It has a population of 238 million; of this 87 percent are Muslims. It has also the most complex mosaic of Islamic sects, organizations and beliefs. Growing influence of fundamentalist Islamic teachings encourages young peoples to marry at a young age and subsequently to have children earlier. Whether the recent decline of population growth would continue in future is an open question. This is quite evident from the fact that small but influential Islamic groups working on the university campuses puts pressures on group members to marry young, and to marry within the group. The popular magazine Aulia which has a focus on marital advice and Islamic clothing styles, hit the newsstands in November, 2011 with the English language headline: Good Muslims, Happy Marriage, Great Sex. Youthful marriage is promoted as modern Muslim option.


It has a population of 74 million. This makes it one of the most populous countries in the Middle East. Remarkable demographic changes have occurred over the last three decades. In 1979, Iran changed from a monarchy to an Islamic Republic. This led to a revision of the Constitution and civil laws based on the sharia. It promoted pro-natalist ideology which resulted in high fertility. At the beginning of the 20th century, the population of Iran was estimated at only 10 million; it increased to 13 million by 1933, a growth rate of only 0.8 percent per annum. This slow rate continued till 1940s. Between 1956 and 1966, the population grew at 3.1 percent annually. The population increased to 33.7 million by 1976. From 1976 to 1986, following the Islamic revolution with its pro-natalist ideology, the growth reached the highest level at 3.9 percent. The pro-natalist ideology, resulted in the suspension of family planning programmes and the encouragement of early marriage and high fertility. After 1986 census, the family programme was revived, reproductive health services and free contraception became available throughout the country. Fertility control policy was adopted in 1989. 

There has, since been a major change in favour of a small family size and increased age at marriage.


It is the most populous country on the African continent. The current population is around 84.5 million all living in the narrow Nile river basin that account for only 4 percent of the country's total area. The official estimates put the density at 84 per sq.km. However, based on inhabited area it would be 850 per sq.km. In absolute number, the population of Egypt has increased from 21 million in 1950 to 81 million by 2010 and is projected to increase to 116 million by 2050, an addition of over 40 percent in the next 40 years.

Given the imbalance in area available for habitation and the substantial increase in population in recent decades, population issues have received the highest priority of the Government. Egypt, in 1962 became the first country to adopt a national population policy. Many measures have been taken to check the rapid population growth. Total focus on family planning and reproductive health have received utmost attention of the concerned authorities. The long history of Government commitment has paid off in a significant fertility decline from 7.02 children per woman in 1962 to 3 children per woman in 2008. Because of the changes in the levels of mortality and fertility, Egypt is experiencing age structural transition-changes in the share of three major age groups- 0-14 years, 15-59 years and 60 years and above. The number of children has been growing at a declining rate and is expected to decline in absolute number by 2030, adult population is expected to reach a steady state by 2050: and the highest growth rate has been recorded for the older population and is expected to be over 3.5 percent in the coming decades. Policy makers in the country therefore face the problem of balancing the needs of rapidly ageing population while leveraging the potential of upcoming demographic dividend.


Since the founding of the Republic in 1923 population size has increased over five times from 13.6 million in the first census (1927) to 74 million in 2011. With this population, Turkey stands 17th among the most populous 20 countries of the world. Its population is the second largest after Germany in Europe. This large increase has been the result of country's social, political, economic and diverse population policies.In the early years of the Republic small population size was among the country's greatest concerns. The three wars-the Balkan Wars, the First World War, and the War of Independence-had led to a heavy human loss. The national aim was to assist population recovery. Accordingly, the laws decreed upto 1960 were aimed directly or indirectly at population growth. There was prohibition on import, production and sale of contraceptives. Simultaneously, financial incentives were provided to encourage large families. These laws, together with other supporting factors brought about a gradual increase in population. High birth rates prevailed; total fertility rates had risen to 6.6 children in the mid-1930. However, the high-death rates had balanced out the high birth rates.

In 1960s population growth began to be regarded as the fundamental cause of many economic and social problems. The pro-natalist population policy was replaced by a relatively liberal anti-natalist policy. The Population Planning Law of 1965 gave every Turkish couple the right to determine the number and spacing of their children. Side by side, measures were taken to educate and help the public to avoid unwanted pregnancies. As a result, both the birth rates and death rates have stabilized at 2-2.5 per annum.

1980 2010 2030
Total Population (thousands)  50,664  73,722  85,407
Total fertility rate (children per woman) 3.45  2.11  1.97
Primary education (years)  6 6 -


As per United Nation's estimates, population of Pakistan in 2010 was 174 million and is expected to reach 221 million in 2025 and further to 234 million by 2030. This is on the assumption that total fertility rate is expected to decline from 3.20 in 2010 to 2.23 by 2030. Another estimate done by the UN in 2008 puts the projected figure for 2030 at 260 million. Thus the actual population could be any where between 230-266 million by 2030 AD.

In addition to changes in population size, the coming decades will also bring about significant changes in the populations age structures. According to the State Population Council's projections, the proportion of population aged 15-64 had increased from 53.6 percent in 1990 to 57.3 percent in 2005 and to 58.8 percent by 2010. Congruously the proportion of children aged 0-14 declined from 41.6 percent to 38.6 percent and to 36.1 percent in the corresponding years. It is this demographic shift in age structures from young to a middle aged that will have significant impact on the overall future of Pakistan in the coming decades. To give an example : In 2010 the gap between those available for work and those employed was about 60 million persons. By 2030 the gap is likely to widen to over 80 million people. 


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