On 1 June 2010, the Institute hosted a public lecture by Dr. Mehtab Karim, a Senior Research Fellow at the Pew Research Centre and a Professor at the School of Public Policy at George Mason University. Dr. Karim's lecture was entitled, "Demography of Muslim Countries: Fertility Transition and Youth Bulge".
Dr. Farid Panjwani delivered a few introductory remarks and noted that while AKU-ISMC focuses on qualitative approaches, it was useful to explore quantitative research and wider population trends that have substantial impacts on Muslim societies.
Dr Karim’s lecture examined the demographic trends that have emerged across Muslim majority countries over the last thirty years. He focused particularly on the changing fertility rate that has resulted in an increased number of youth in these countries.
It was noted that during the 1970 and 80s, Muslim-majority countries as well Muslims living as minorities, reported the highest fertility rates of any religious group, while by the mid-1990s this trend saw a substantial decline.
Based on census data, Dr. Karim’s findings provided a fascinating overview of the marked changes in fertility rates these countries have seen, as well as some of the factors that have contributed to these changes, including improvements in health care and the effectiveness of family planning programmes.
Dr. Karim noted four major factors typically used to explain decreased fertility rates in demographic research, including the age of marriage, use of contraception, breast feeding and access to abortion.
Rates of population growth in South Asia were discussed and it was observed that while there have been clear demographic changes in response to government policy, there are still a number of factors (such as income levels, low literacy rates and infant mortality) working against effective family planning.
The speaker then explored the ‘youth bulge’; a trend prevalent in countries such as Iran, Pakistan and Banglades, and described as high numbers of young people between the ages of 15 to 29, relative to the total population.
Finally, the discussion took a brief look at the question of a link between high numbers of youth and a possible increase in violence. Dr. Karim touched upon various sociological theories while pointing out that population numbers are only one part of the equation of a complex social phenomenon.
Coordinator, Planning & Academic Development
Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations