Youth and the Fertility Plateau in Egypt: The Alignment of Two Policy Objectives

Type Working Paper
Title Youth and the Fertility Plateau in Egypt: The Alignment of Two Policy Objectives
Egypt’s demographic profile, like many countries in the Middle East, is marked by a
large youth population. This situation, often described as a “youth bulge”, has been of
great impact on Egypt’s recent political situation. Suffice it to say that youth in Egypt
have been in the vanguard of the recent political developments that toppled the country’s
leadership in quest for democratic change in the now called January 25th revolution.
While a strong movement on the street that involved Egyptians of different ages and
backgrounds, the Arab Spring in Egypt was triggered and populated by hundreds of
thousands of young people eager for political and economic change.
Egypt’s youth bulge is the outcome of a specific stage in the country’s fertility
Egypt’s modern history shows a significant decline in fertility. Its current
total fertility rate (TFR)3
of three children per woman (Zanaty and Way, 2009) is to be
compared to a TRF of seven in 1960 (Robinson and El-Zanaty, 2006:168). This
significant drop in fertility has led to a youth population that is larger in size than those
who are younger and older, hence showing a “bulge” in the country’s population
pyramid. As a result of this transition in fertility rate, the birth cohort of 1985-1990 is
Egypt’s last large age cohort (Gould, 2009). It is this group that has been at the center of
the country’s more recent political change.
Despite the documented decline in fertility, Egypt has not reached the fertility
replacement-level of two children per woman. The documented sharp decline started to
reach a plateau by the mid-1990s, with the fertility rate rates hovering around 3.3 in 1997, 3.4 in 1998, 3.5 in 2000, 3.2 in 2003 (Zananty and Way, 2008). The target to reduce the
crude birth rate (CBR) to 20 per thousand by the year 2000 was never achieved (Ibrahim
and Ibrahim,1998:24). CBR remained stagnant around the level of 27 births per
thousand in 2000 (Robinson and El-Zanaty, 2006). In the first decade of the twenty first
century, the decline continues to be slow and steady, hovering around 25.7 in 2006 and
26.6 in 2007 (ibid.). This stagnation in fertility rate continues to alarm many
demographers about the impact of the population momentum.
This paper attempts to capitalize on the focus of youth in Egypt to rejuvenate a
longstanding debate on population growth and fertility planning in the country. Given
Egypt’s large youth population and their newly assumed position in the country’s
political arena, this paper seeks to address the fertility plateau issue using the lens of
youth inclusion. The paper analyzes the situation of three of the development parameters
most related to population growth regulation, youth inclusion and social integration.
These are women’s education, women’s labor market participation and access to
contraception. The paper will also look at the attitudes of young people in relation to the
desired number of children and the discourse of youth about population issues in postrevolution
I start in the following section with a discussion of population policies in Egypt in the
recent decades. I get back to the issue of population policies in the discussion section
drawing examples from other countries in the region, particularly Iran, for its significant
population regulation experience post the 1979 revolution. The paper seeks to provide
recommendations that are both youth and population relevant.

Related studies