Related Factors: Economic Well-Being
In Muslim-majority countries, as in many other countries, low economic standards of living are associated with rapid population growth.
In general, among the 24 Muslim-majority countries for which data are available from the U.N., the more people who live in poverty, the higher the national fertility rate, as the scatter plot below illustrates. The reverse is also true: As living standards rise, fertility rates tend to drop.
There are a number of reasons why fertility tends to be higher in poor countries. In agricultural societies, high fertility may be related to the desire of families to have more workers. In countries with poor health care infrastructures, families need to have more children to offset high child mortality rates. And in less-developed countries, parents may be more likely to see additional children as wealth-producing resources rather than as wealth-draining obligations.
The 10 Muslim-majority countries with the highest percentages of people living below the poverty line (as defined by each country) are projected to have an average Total Fertility Rate of 4.5 children per woman. That is nearly double the average projected rate (2.4 children per woman) in the 10 Muslim-majority countries with the lowest percentages of people living below the poverty line.
At present, Muslim-majority countries overall are among the poorest in the world, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in U.S. dollars adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP).13 Their median GDP per capita of $4,000 is substantially lower than the median for more-developed countries ($33,700) and just slightly higher than the median for less-developed countries where Muslims are in the minority ($3,300).
However, the median GDP per capita figure for all Muslim-majority countries masks an enormous amount of variation from country to country and region to region. For instance, the median GDP per capita in Muslim-majority countries in Middle East-North Africa is $6,000, compared with roughly $1,200 in Muslim-majority countries in sub-Saharan Africa.14 And some oil-rich countries with Muslim majorities, particularly the Gulf states, have median GDPs per capita that are higher than that of the United States.
Three of the 10 nations with the world’s highest GDPs per capita are Muslim-majority countries (Qatar, Kuwait and Brunei), but three of the 10 countries with the world’s lowest GDPs per capita also are Muslim-majority countries (Afghanistan, Niger and Somalia).
Although fertility rates in the wealthiest Muslim-majority countries tend to be lower than in other Muslim-majority countries, they still are higher than in many of the world’s wealthiest non-Muslim-majority countries.
13 After per capita GDP figures are adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP), they reflect the value of goods and services produced by each country in one year at a comparable rate in the United States so that comparisons from country to country are more accurate. (return to text)
14 Median GDP per capita is weighted by country populations so that more populous countries affect the average more than smaller countries. (return to text)