Related Factors: Education
As in the rest of the world, fertility rates in countries with Muslim-majority populations are directly related to educational attainment. Women tend to delay childbearing when they attain higher levels of education. As Muslim women continue to receive more education, their fertility rates are projected to decline.
The relationship between educational attainment and fertility rates is shown in the scatter plot below. Niger, for example, has an extremely high Total Fertility Rate (an average of 6.9 children per woman), and a girl born there today can expect to receive an average of just four years of schooling in her lifetime. In Libya, by contrast, a girl born today can expect to receive an average of 17 years of education, and the country’s fertility rate is 2.5 children per woman.
The eight Muslim-majority countries where girls can expect to receive the fewest years of schooling have an average Total Fertility Rate of 5.0 children per woman. That is more than double the average rate (2.3 children per woman) in the nine Muslim-majority countries where girls can expect to receive the most years of schooling.
One exception is the Palestinian territories, which has a relatively high fertility rate (4.5 children per woman) although a girl born there today can expect to receive 14 years of education, on average.12
12 The continuation of high fertility despite high education levels among Palestinians has been described as a demographic puzzle. The reasons for it are not entirely clear. Partly, it may reflect the persistence of traditional attitudes in Gaza; studies suggest that fertility has started to drop in the West Bank but not in Gaza. Some studies also find that highly educated Palestinian women are more likely than those who are less-educated to remain single but that married Palestinians tend to have similar numbers of children regardless of their educational level. Some commentators have suggested that high Palestinian birth rates may have a political basis as “weapons against occupation.” But a study of fertility patterns among Palestinians in different political settings does not support this “political fertility” hypothesis. See Marwan Khawaja, “The Fertility of Palestinian Women in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon,” Population-E, Volume 58, Number 3, pages 273-302, 2003. (return to text)