The Arab Middle East Family Dynamic Is Changing -- And That’s a Good Thing

A new study shows that, perhaps, experts shouldn’t put the baby carriage before economic well-being when it comes to reproductive rights in the Arab countries. 

Al Jazeera reported that the total fertility rate has more than halved among Arab families (excluding those in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen) between 1980 and the present, and parents once had seven children on average, but most are now planning for three or fewer. This quiet decline has occurred without any specific programs in place, such as government family planning programs, nor is it a direct result of access to contraceptives. Instead, the Middle Eastern family model is shrinking to a smaller nuclear family as women gain more opportunities and freedom in career and education spheres. The new shift is occurring even as cultural attitudes, which pressure women to have more children, remain.

Traditionally, nonprofits have campaigned for programs that teach family planning and provide contraceptives as a way to clear the path for women’s rights and economic freedom. However, the newly reported Middle East phenomenon shows that while the availability of such resources can certainly be a contributing factor to this goal, providing essential aid to women, it is no replacement for growing economic well-being. And programs which do artificially facilitate a changing family dynamic may lay on the wrong end of a cause and effect relationship, struggling to provide reproductive rights to a society that hasn’t yet given women the economic power to demand or rely on it.

In the midst of re-examining approaches to women’s empowerment in third world countries, it’s worth noting the most positive takeaway of the study: women’s rights are marginally improving in the Arab countries of the Middle East. With a future generation that is invested in more by their parents and a population demographic that, over time, may begin to resemble that of more advanced countries, positive changes in the Middle East — on the whole — are in the foreseeable future.