What’s next, Doc?

What’s Next, Doc?

If we can get away from politics for a moment, to look at two developmental factors, total fertility rate and education, we can get some hints about what is possible in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, and elsewhere.  I have posted a table with all TFR figures.

Total fertility rate (TFR - number of children that would be born to a woman of a given age cohort if she lived through her entire range of fertile years).

In an advanced post-industrial society, a TFR of 2.1 means a stable population; the US has roughly this level (higher among immigrants, lower among indigenous population, especially indigenous white population); Western Europe and Japan are often down around 1.3 to 1.5, which means their native population is declining.

The TFR places Tunisia within the European pattern, at 1.71 (France is 2, Germany is 1.4).  Egypt and Libya remain higher, 2.7 and 2.5, but continued to trend down, much as places like India (2.5) and Brazil (1.7) have done over the last generation, as they move to the profile of an industrial society transforming into a post-industrial one (the rate in the US in the 1960s, for example, was 2.65).  Among the other countries that have had some recent unrest, Algeria, Bahrain, and Morocco have a TFR of between 2.1 and 2.3, while Jordan and Oman are 2.8.  Yemen, in contrast, has the profile of a pre-industrial society: 4.7.

Among functioning world democracies, the high end of the TFR is India.  A Middle Eastern country that has transitioned both demographically and political in the last 20 years, Turkey, fits a profile similar to that of Brazil, Indonesia, and Argentina, all of which dropped from just under 3 in 1990 to around 2 today.

In terms of demographic statistics, Tunisian belongs to Western Europe.  Look for Tunisia to make an effective and rapid transition to real democracy.

Jordan, Oman, and Egypt probably go into the category of a place like the Philippines (2.9), which has a very fragile democratic system and continuing problems with local warlordism.  Some sub-Saharan African countries, like Nigeria and Kenya, have TFRs of 4 or even higher and have fragile democratic systems (as the Kenyan electoral violence showed three years ago), but we might look to Côte d’Ivoire (4) as an illustration of the difficulties of democracy in a place with relatively low literacy, low tertiary education levels, continuing gender differentiation in education, and a high TFR.  Egypt and Jordan do have solid educational statistics for this level of development, which bodes well for a more effective transition.

Note to American policymakers:  Afghanistan has a TFR of 6.3; Iraq has a TFR of  3.7.  The chances of real constitutional democracy in either are low; in Afghanistan, with its dismal educational statistics and grotesque discrimination against women, the chances are zero.  Iraq at least has decent educational numbers and did have (prior to 2003) a positive picture on gender discrimination.  Afghanistan ranks close to Yemen in discrimination against women and has dreadful education statistics: only 12.6% of women in Afghanistan can read.  “Exporting democracy” to such a place is literally impossible.

TFR highlights another country in the region: Iran has a TFR of 1.7 and high educational levels, yet has an autocratic government (a blend of theocracy and military state).  Iran’s government is really a throwback to the society Iran was in 1979 (TFR between 6 and 7); the problems they have had, and continue to have, reflect the fact that Iran’s government no longer accurately reflects its society.  The numbers suggest Iran’s current system will collapse under its own weight sometime in the next decade, indeed, quite possible even sooner.

Egypt, with its 82 million people, could follow the paths of Indonesia and Brazil, each of which since 1990 has moved away from:  1) a military-dominated political systems, 2) an under-educated population, 3) a catastrophic gender education imbalance, and 4) a TFR of 3.

Indonesia’s TFR dropped from 5.6 in the late 1960s, to 3.3 in the late 1980s, to 2.3 by 1999, and 2 today.  Brazil was also 3.3 in 1986, and 2.5 by 1994; today it’s down to 1.7. Both of them arguably went through the transition to effective democratic government as they moved from a TFR of 3.3 to one of about 2.3 (just above replacement level). Egypt’s TFR in 1990 was 4.6, so the current rate of 2.7 shows it going through a similar process in population dynamics.  Now it needs to have the political change.

The Tale of the TFR

IF, a big IF, the TFR proves to be an accurate indicator, we would expect the following outcomes:

Tunisia, functioning constitutional democracy

Egypt, Libya, Algeria, somewhat slower transition, but democratic elements, functioning democracy by about 2025

Yemen, continued autocratic rule (strongman, military, theocratic all possible)

Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco, perhaps constitutional monarchies or democracies, developing a bit more slowly than Tunisia, with Bahrain in position to move the fastest.

Education and Gender Imbalance

The education statistics from Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen tell starkly different stories.  Tunisia’s average length of schooling is supposedly 15 years but surely at least 12; moreover, the rate for females slightly exceeds that for males.  Female literacy rates lag behind those of males (65 v 83%), but that discrepancy mainly reflects earlier gender discrimination.  In Egypt, school expectancy is 11 years, but UN statistics show that a significant proportion of Egyptians (on the order of 20%) do not get anything like that amount, and the nationwide average is more like 6 to 9 years.  Girls still face educational deficiencies.  Literacy rates are similar to those in Tunisia – 83% for males, 59% for females – but hide a generally much lower level of education among a large group of the population.

That said, both Tunisia (one-third) and Egypt (one-quarter) have a very impressive percentage of young women in the eligible population (first 5 years after the end of secondary education) enrolled in tertiary education.  Yemen, in contrast, has only 4% of eligible women enrolled in the tertiary sector, and only about one male in eight. (Afghanistan has 1%, yes 1%, enrolled in the tertiary sector.)  Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, and Libya all fall into pretty much the same categories in education as they do in TFR, because of the close correlation between female educational attainment and fertility (female educational level is the single most highly correlated socioeconomic variable in fertility rates).  Morocco lags behind on education, and Oman is last, both in education and TFR.

For effective democracy, it helps to have 30% of eligible students in the tertiary level, for the percentages of women and men to be about the same, and for average educational years to be roughly full secondary education (12).  The much-touted Western democracies got to these levels only in the 1960s.  It would be hard to argue that Western Europe, for example, had overwhelming success with democracy prior to that time and the US, while in some ways better, still essentially disenfranchised large numbers of blacks (mainly in the South) and the itinerant poor (almost everywhere) until the mid 1960s.

Tale of the Tertiary Sector

Tunisia, solid tertiary level, gender balance: democracy

Egypt, Libya, , Bahrain, Jordan, solid tertiary level, some continued gender imbalance in Egypt:  on the road to democracy.

Algeria lags a bit on the tertiary level, as does Oman.  Unclear outcome.

Morocco, lags in school years and has very poor tertiary statistics.  Gender balance is close to mainstream group:  slower progress toward constitutional monarchy.

Yemen, very poor tertiary level, grotesque gender imbalance (UN statistics show that Yemen has the worst gender discrimination inequalities in the world): autocracy

Overall assessment

Having looked at what the two categories on their own would imply, let’s put them together.  The two categories are pretty consistent.  Tunisia has great prospects for success, while reform, but of unclear extent, seems likely in Bahrain, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan.  Oman will likely lag a bit behind, and Yemen seems certain to slip into some sort of new autocratic regime and/or civil war.

Demographic and education data diverge a bit in some cases:  Morocco’s poor educational record will likely hold it back, while the TFR in Jordan, Oman, and Egypt is a bit high to fit the classic quick transition to more democratic government.  Oman also lies at the low end of the TFR outlook. Bahrain has an important religious division and large numbers of temporary migrant workers: they form about 1/3rd of Bahrain’s population, an ‘x’ factor not present in the other countries.  That said, Bahrain basic numbers are very good.

Transitions with limited violence, as in Egypt, Tunisian, and Bahrain (so far), have considerable advantages over those of higher violence and destruction, as in Libya.  Tunisia’s substantive constitutional reform committee, its recent dismissal of the tainted prime minister, and its underlying positive numbers should make it a model for democratization in the Arab world.  With determination and a bit of luck, the numbers say Egyptian reformers can pull it off, too, but it will be more difficult.


Combined Rating


Country                        TFR                                  Educ. years               Tertiary %               Gender = educ.

Tunisia        1.8                15*           32                    yes

Bahrain        2.1                14            30-50*                yes

Algeria        2.3                13            24                    yes

Morocco        2.3                10            13                    moving toward

Libya          2.5                17*           55                    yes

Egypt          2.7               “11” (prob.9)* 31                    no

Jordan         2.8                13            38                    close

Oman           2.8                12            26                    no

Iraq           3.7                10 [11m/8f]   16                    yes

Yemen          4.7                9 [11m/7f]    10                    no

Afghanistan    6.3                9 [11m/7f]*   1 (sic)              no

*The two Tunisian education numbers – level (15 years) and tertiary percentage (32%) – are contradictory, so I would guess years of education is overstated. For Bahrain, the two UN sources I consulted gave 30% and 50%; given the 14 years of education level, I suspect the 50% figure is more accurate.  I would also be certain that the figure refers only to Bahrainis, and excludes the large in-migrant population of workers.  Libya’s statistics are probably the least reliable, but the ability of children to go to school in Afghanistan has to be questioned, too.  For Egypt, I think 9 years is more accurate, because UN data show such a large group there (about 15-20%) essentially has no access at all to education.

One thought on “What’s next, Doc?

  1. Upon reading Jim’s analysis on the impact of education -especially the education of girls- on the current groundswell movements towards democracy, any self-respecting autocrat should be more reluctant than ever to tolerate (expansion of) schooling for girls.

    Read Greg Mortensen’s “Three Cups of Tea” to realize the powerful impact of even a single school for girls in places like Afghanistan.

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