(January 2009) A new demographic and health survey (DHS) from Egypt shows that the number of children per woman has declined, from 3.5 in 2000 to about 3.0 in 2008. Fertility fell faster in rural areas, narrowing the gap between urban and rural women. In 2008, the average number of children per woman was 2.7 in urban areas and 3.2 in rural areas.
Most of Egypt’s decline occurred before 2005. The 2008 numbers are just slightly below those measured in 2003 and 2005 surveys. This raises the question: Will Egypt’s fertility fall much further or are couples now having the number of children they want? The answer is important because it will determine the future size of the Middle East and North Africa. Egypt is by far the most populous country in that region. Current population projections for Egypt assume that fertility will fall to about 2.3 by 2025, well below the current rate.
The 2008 DHS shows that 17 percent of women of reproductive age would like to delay having another child, and that 62 percent would like to avoid another pregnancy altogether. Egyptian women surveyed in the 2000 DHS gave slightly different answers: 14 percent wanted to delay their next birth and 64 percent said they did not want another child. But in both surveys, between 13 percent and 14 percent said they wanted to get pregnant as soon as possible.
If all the women who wanted to avoid pregnancy were able to do so, fertility would probably fall, at least somewhat. The percentage of women using a modern contraceptive method rose slightly, from 54 percent to 58 percent between 2000 and 2008, with most of that increase before 2005.
Mary Mederios Kent is senior demographic editor at the Population Reference Bureau.
Egypt Ministry of Health and Population and El-Zanaty and Associates, Egypt Demographic and Health Survey 2008: Preliminary Report (Calverton, MD: Macro International, 2008).