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Tunisia: The Counter Demographic Transition

[Screenshot from video footage of the interview below, with Youssef Courbage] [Screenshot from video footage of the interview below, with Youssef Courbage]

[The following is an interview conducted with Youssef Courbage. This video (in French) is published in cooperation with OrientXXI]

Youssef Courbage is research director at the National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED). For many years, he aimed to analyze the evolution of Arab and Muslim societies through demographic variables. In this interview, he explains that after the Arab uprisings, the countries in the Middle East and North African region have experienced a marked increase in the birth rate, including in Tunisia, a country that had been praised for its demographic transition.

Indeed, until the mid-2000s, demographers considered Tunisia s a model for other Arab countries. With the development model that president Habib Bourguiba chose after independence (new family code, mass education), there had been a sharp decrease in the birth rate. Tunisian women became more free to dispose of their bodies, taboos were falling--so much so that Tunisian women went from giving birth to, on average, 7 children in 1960, to only two children in the 2000s.

The demographic transition was brutal. Other Arab countries have followed this trend. But in 2014, there was a reversal of this phenomenon, with what we have called a counter demographic transition, which really is a problem. It is the case of Egypt, which has ninety million inhabitants and whose growth rate increased in the last five years, from three to three and a half percent.

But it is also the case of Algeria, which experienced a very sharp rise in the birth rate caused by the end of the civil war, during which many people got married and started having children. But this is also due to the massive redistribution of oil revenues and other factors, such as the distant memory of the war of Algeria: a country that has had a large number of martyrs (shouhada) always has the conditions that are conducive to higher birth rates, even fifty years later.

Despite this, Youssef Courbage does not foresee this growth as being sustainable and believes that countries in the region will eventually return to limited fertility.



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