In just the last thirty years or so, those very Middle Eastern countries that used to teem with children and adolescents have gone through a startling demographic transformation. Since the mid-1970s, Algeria's fertility rate has collapsed from over 7 to 1.75, Tunisia's from 6 to 2.03, Morocco's from 6.5 to 2.21, Libya's from 7.5 to 2.96. Today, Algeria's rate is roughly equivalent to that of Denmark or Norway; Tunisia's is comparable to France. Counter-intuitively, that remark about "the closer to Rome" also holds good on the southern, Muslim, side of the Mediterranean.Share
Just what is happening here? Everything depends on the changing attitudes and expectation of the women in these once highly-traditional societies. Across the region, women have become increasingly involved in higher education, and have moreover moved into full-time employment. That sea-change simply makes it unthinkable for women to manage a rampaging tribe of seven or eight children. Often, too, images of women's proper role in life have been upended by extended contacts with Europe. Migrants to France or Italy return home with changed attitudes, while families who stay at home find it hard to avoid the media portrayals of Western lives they see via cable and satellite dish. Maybe Europe and the Middle East are merging into one common Eurabia - but it's far from clear which side is doing a better job of imposing its opinions on the other. Presently, it looks as if the Maghreb is becoming European.