Historically, the MENA countries have been considered to include some of the world’s fastest growing populations (Fahimi and Kent, 2007). However, in the last three decades the region has experienced declines in its demographic growth rate. This is mainly due to the fall in fertility rates that started in North Africa and later spread to the rest of the Middle East (Rivlin, 2009). Fertility rates fell as a result of the increased use of contraceptives. This was, at least partly, related to improvements in health and education. The fact that more women delayed getting married and went to work also reduced fertility rates. The introduction of modern medical services and public health interventions was a factor that helped decrease fertility rates and reduce mortality rates (Fahimi and Kent, 2007).
During the late 1970s, birth rates averaged 42 per 1000, resulting in 6 million births a year while the death rate was 12.2 per 1000, resulting in 1.8 million deaths a year (Rivlin, 2009). In 2009, birth rates were estimated at 25 per 1000 in the MENA; death rates were 7 per 1000 in West Asia and 6 per 1000 in North Africa (Population Reference Bureau- PRB, 2009).
Adapted from Roudi-Fahimi and Kent (2007), Source: UN Population Division, World Population Prospects
As a result, the region can still be marked by rapidly declining death rates and slowly declining fertility rates. Accordingly, the MENA’s population size quadrupled in the last half century, standing at more than 500 million in 2010 and projected to surpass 780 million by 2050 (UNPD, 2008).
The age structure has also experienced significant shift, the economically active population (aged 15-64) rose from about 51 per cent of the total population in 1970 to 63 per cent in the end of 2009. Simultaneously, the dependent population (<15 and >65) decreased to reach more than 37 per cent of the region population (PRB, 2009). Such figures demonstrate significant contributions to economic growth in East Asia and could do the same in the MENA region, but also pose a threat as large numbers of unemployed young people can threaten social and political order (Rivlin, 2009, pp. 13-14).