Related Factors: Urbanization
Slightly more than half of residents of Muslim-majority countries live in rural communities, but they are moving to cities and towns at a faster rate than the populations in other countries of the world, many of which are already heavily urbanized. Because urban dwellers generally have fewer children than people in rural areas, this trend is a contributing factor in the overall decline in fertility rates among Muslims.
In general among Muslim-majority countries, there is an association between urbanization and fertility: the higher the portion of the population living in cities and towns, the lower the national fertility rate.
This pattern may be seen even more clearly by comparing fertility rates in the countries with the highest and lowest percentages of people living in urban areas. In the 10 least-urbanized Muslim-majority countries, the average Total Fertility Rate is twice as high (4.8 children per woman) as the average in the 10 most-urbanized Muslim-majority countries (2.4 children per woman).
The relationship between urban populations and fertility rates, however, is complex. It can be thought of as a two-stage process (though, in reality, the stages may overlap). First, high fertility rates lead to rapid urban growth as children from large families in rural communities tend to move to cities and towns in search of better economic opportunities. Then, the new urban dwellers gradually adopt the lower fertility patterns characteristic of urban centers, thereby reducing the future number of children.
Many Muslim-majority countries are still in the first stage of this process. They have largely rural populations but very rapidly growing cities and towns. About 48% of the total population in Muslim-majority countries lived in urban areas in 2009, and the average annual urban growth rate in 2005-10 in these countries was 3.1%.18 By comparison, in non-Muslim-majority, less-developed countries, 44% of people lived in cities and towns, and the urban growth rate was 2.7%. In more-developed countries, 75% of the population lived in cities and towns, and the urban growth rate was 0.6%.
One reason for a higher rate of urban growth in Muslim-majority countries is the relatively high fertility rate among rural Muslims. Muslim-majority countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which tend to have very high fertility rates, currently have the highest rates of urban growth, an average of 4.2% annually. By contrast, Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East-North Africa and in Asia-Pacific, which tend to have lower fertility rates, also have lower urban growth rates (2.9% and 3.0%, respectively). (For details on fertility see sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East-North Africa and Asia-Pacific.)
The 12 Muslim-majority countries with the highest annual urban growth rates have much higher fertility rates, on average, than the 12 Muslim-majority countries with the lowest annual urban growth rates (4.6 vs. 2.3 children per woman). Qatar is an exception. Being a relatively small and wealthy country, it has a substantial number of immigrants moving to urban areas in search of employment.
18 For the purposes of this report, a country’s level of urbanization is defined as the percentage of its total population that lives in cities and towns. The urban growth rate is a different measure; it is the average annual increase in the number of urban residents. Thus, a country that is largely rural but with fast-growing cities and towns may be described as having a low degree of urbanization but a high rate of urban growth. (return to text)