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Studies 19 December, 2012

Fertility in Iraq: Trends, Evolution and Influential Factors

هاشم نعمة فياض

أستاذ جامعيّ وباحث، حاصل على البكالوريوس في علم الجغرافية من كلية الآداب جامعة البصرة عام 1974. نال شهادة الدكتوراه- التّخصّص الدّقيق الجغرافية السكّانية والدراسات السكّانية من أكاديميّة العلوم الهنغارية عام 1989. عمل في التدريس والبحث العلميّ في معاهد المعلّمين والجامعات ومراكز البحث العلميّ في العراق والمغرب وليبيا وهولندا. نشر العديد من الكتب والدراسات والبحوث والمقالات ومراجعات الكتب وله ترجمات من اللغة الإنكليزية إلى اللغة العربيّة. شارك في العديد من المؤتمرات المتخصّصة والنّدوات في عدد من الدّول. عضو الهيئة الاستشاريّة لمجلّة (مقاربات) الأكاديميّة التي تصدر في المغرب.

This paper seeks to examine Iraq's fertility trends and the changes in fertility levels brought about in the last decades, using the Demographic Transition Theory as the basis of its analysis and conclusion. To achieve this, the study examines how the social, economic, and political changes taking place in Iraq - the affliction of war and internal turmoil - inevitably influence fertility behaviors, and thus development. The paper examines the geographical distribution of fertility through a comparison of fertility rates in the rural and urban areas, and across the governorates of Iraq. When possible, the study seeks to determine the causes that lead to geographical differences in fertility rates. In addition, the paper examines the interacting factors that determine the fertility behavior including: marriage, age structure, internal and external migration, mortality, population policy, household size, women's status, education level, profession, religion, and wars. Before arriving at a conclusion, the author offers a broader perspective on the evolution of fertility trends and the factors that contribute to its developments, offering a number of comparisons between Arab states and other developing and developed countries.

 

Introduction

Population fertility refers to the number of live births in any population group. It represents one of the three main components determining the rate of demographic growth, in addition to mortality and migration. Fertility affects the general demographic, economic, and social structure of the population and is a biological factor that is more complex to study than mortality and migration due to the complexity, multiplicity, and instability of its variables. As a result, the subject of fertility has become a vast domain for demographic, sociological, economic, political, and cultural studies .[1] Fertility should be clearly distinguished from the physiological ability to reproduce, which cannot be measured; rather, it is measured based on birth statistics.

The population structure, as well as its development, stability, and changes, are all decided by the mechanisms of population fertility, mortality, and migration. Within this configuration, fertility and mortality are the two main determinants of a population structure and its shifts in the Arab world, while migration retains an important role on the short term mostly in countries with small populations. Fertility supplies society with the needed human resources for its existence, sustainability, and functioning. Together with mortality, fertility renews society, compensates its human resources and maintains its vitality and efficiency. Both factors are the basis for the functioning and change of other demographic variables, such as population size, growth, distribution, age and sex structure. During the process of population replacement, the demographic structure undergoes several stages, ranging from stasis to noticeable shifts, leading the population to either increase, decrease or to remain balanced .[2]

Despite the fact that population growth is the outcome of these three interrelated demographic variables, in most cases fertility is what ultimately determines the growth and composition of a population. Thus, understanding fertility is not only necessary to comprehend demographic behavior, but it is an essential component of social structure and human condition. For this reason, population fertility has enjoyed the prime focus of population studies since Malthus. With the broad-ranging decline in mortality rates around the world, analyzing reproductive patterns and the formation of families has become increasingly dominant in population studies .[3] This is true despite the rising importance of the subject of migration in population studies in recent years, especially in population geography.

The study of Iraqi women's fertility patterns is of particular importance at this point in time, due to the social, economic, and political changes taking place in Iraq, which include the affliction of war, and its inevitable effect on fertility levels. Due to a dearth of in-depth academic studies addressing this topic, particularly in recent years, this study seeks to track and analyze the changes that have occurred in fertility during the past decades. In addition, this study seeks to examine the interrelated variables that have determined fertility patterns. These refer to the demographic variables that include factors such as marriage, age structure, internal and external migration, mortality, and population policy in addition to social and economic variables that fall under the themes of family size, the status of women, education, employment, religion, and wars.

Data gathered for the purpose of this study has mainly derived from the demographic surveys, reports and statistical data published by the Iraqi Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation, including the general population census, which is conducted once every ten years (the last of which being the 1997 census). Additionally, the study has utilized statistics published annually by the Central Organization for Statistics, affiliated with the same ministry, as well as Iraqi and Arab academic journals, including those published by the universities of Kufa and Basra and the Iraqi Geographical Society. Other sources included international English-language academic journals, UN publications, publications of the UN-affiliated ESCWA agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and the publications of the central Dutch statistical office, in addition to other sources and references, in Arabic, English, and Dutch.

The methodology draws its conclusions and deductions from statistical analysis which is exemplified in the extensive use of statistical tables, some of which were designed by the author based on the statistical data provided, while others were taken from their original sources. The paper also includes figures which were produced to draw analysis and conclusions and to elucidate the researched data. A comparative method was also adopted which involves a comparison of Iraq's case with that of other countries in the Arab region as well as other developing and developed countries.

Framing this study is an introduction and a theoretical section which consists of an exposé of the theory of demographic transition, which was used to interpret the changes in the fertility of Iraqi women and the elements affecting it. The introduction also includes an analysis of the evolution of fertility levels over time and their geographic distribution across urban and rural regions, and across the different governorates. An attempt is made to explain the geographic discrepancies in fertility rates, followed by a more detailed analysis of the secondary variables that are subsumed under the main variables, i.e. the demographic and socio-economic variables affecting fertility. Lastly, a conclusion will summarize the main findings of this study.

Three main hypotheses frame this study: firstly, the fertility rate of Iraqi women has declined in recent decades. Secondly: Fertility rates vary according to time and place. And thirdly, a broad host of interrelated determinants affect fertility levels.

 

The existing literature

Among the most notable studies dealing with the subject of fertility in Iraq is Fadil al-Ansari's book The Population Problem: The Case of Iraq (1980). The book devoted a chapter to studying the natural population growth in Iraq, including the evolution of fertility levels and factors contributing to the changes, including religion; the social, economic, and demographic structure, and the geographic distribution of fertility. The dynamic of fertility in Iraq was also briefly discussed in his study Population Geography (1986). Additional key information can be found in the surveys and reports of the Iraqi Ministry of Planning. The most relevant of these is the "Iraq Living Conditions Survey 2004," a study dedicated to the composition of the population composed of three parts: the evolution of fertility levels, the factors affecting them, and their geographic distribution. This key survey was conducted following a ten-year rupture in demographic studies, and was developed in collaboration with the Central Organization for Statistics of the Iraqi Ministry of Planning, the United Nations Development Program, and the Norwegian Institute for Applied International Studies. Despite the harsh conditions in Iraq at the time, the fieldwork, which covered all Iraqi governorates, was conducted successfully. Also worth mentioning is the "Iraq Household Socio-Economic Survey 2007," which included data on fertility and was executed as part of the technical cooperation program between the Ministry of Planning and the World Bank. The Ministry of Planning report, published with the support of the United National Development Program, entitled "Iraq: National Report on the Status of Human Development 2008," proves valuable as well. This report briefly alluded to fertility rates, marriage age, female educational attainment, rural-to-urban migration, and forced displacement both domestically and abroad. Furthermore, a chapter was devoted to the study of women's empowerment.

Of equally valuable use is the "Report on the Social and Economic Effects of the Phenomenon of Unmarried Women in Iraq" (2008), prepared by Abd al-Razzaq Jasem Hassoun, which pertained to the evolution and reasons for women not marrying in Iraq. Similarly, the "Report on the State of the Population of Iraq 2010," also published by the Ministry of Planning with support from the United Nations Population Fund, studied the evolution of demography in Iraq: the sex and age distribution, the rates of population growth between governorates, the stages of demographic transition, the rates of fertility and mortality, internal and external migration, the demographic "window" in Iraq, and growth scenarios alongside their effect on development.

Lastly, the "Iraq Women's Integrated Social and Health Survey," published in March 2012 by the Ministry of Planning, proved key in its examination of education, equality, family security, the preparation of women for their reproductive role, reproductive health, fertility rates, family planning methods, support for mothers, and the empowerment of women and their protection from violence.

The reports and surveys mentioned above were also supported by various studies that touched on the theme of fertility, including MA and PhD dissertations and Iraqi academic journals.

 


[1] For further information, see Fadil al-Ansari, Population Geography (Damascus: The University of Damascus, 1986), 189.

[2] For further information, see Hani Umran, "The Demographic Situation in the Arab Homeland: Its Characteristics and the Horizons of its Evolution," in Studies in Contemporary Arab Society, ed. Khodor Zakariya, (Damascus: al-Ahali for Publishing and Distribution, 1999), 26, 41-42.

[3] Peng Xizhe, Demographic Transition in China: Fertility Trends Since the 1950s (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), 4.

 

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* This study was translated by the ACRPS Translation and English Editing Department. The original Arabic version can be found here.