The Maghreb’s population is increasing, which will place significant pressure on infrastructure, health, employment and resources across the region. According to Moroccan statistics body HCP, investing in youth is the key to addressing inevitable demographic pressures.
Rabat – The Moroccan statistics body High Commission for Planning (HCP) has released a report analyzing the demographic trends of the Maghreb region and their key influencing factors.
According to the report, between 1980 and 2018, the population of the Maghreb (Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya) doubled from 49.8 million people to 99.9 million people, with an average increase of 1.3 million people a year.
Noting the population across the region will continue to increase, the report warns that the growth in population will place pressure on education, health, employment, housing, water and infrastructure resources across the region.
It paints a bleak picture of the Maghreb in 2050, but concludes the best way forward is to invest in youth.
Previous demographic trends
While the Maghreb’s population is increasing, the rate of population growth is decreasing. HCP finds that the key factors that have influenced the change in growth rates are a drop in mortality rate and birth rate due to changing social patterns.
Providing figures on the child mortality rate in the Maghreb, the report notes that while the rate has decreased, with less children dying at birth (Tunisia has the lowest rate at 1.4%, and Mauritania the highest at 6.1%. Morocco sits at 1.8%), number are still well above European averages (Spain 0.23%, Portugal 0.16%, France 0.28%).
HCP finds the Maghreb has also experienced a significant drop in birth rate in the last 50 years.
In the 1960s and 1970s, women across the region were having on average 7 children, the report notes. In contrast, in 2018, women were having on average 2.6 children.
According to the HCP, this drop is due to changes in marriage practices and the increasing use of contraception.
Thirty years ago, women in the Maghreb were getting married on average around 18 to 21 years of age whereas in 2000, the average marriage age in the Maghreb was over 25 years old.
Maghreb culture and religion do not permit sexual relationships or childbearing outside marriage, HCP notes. Therefore, any increase in the average age of marriage leads to a logical decrease in the childbirth rate, HCP concluded.
The report also identifies general changes to the role of women in Maghreb society, which paired with an increased use of contraception, all contribute to a drop in birth rate.
Pressure on housing
HCP finds that family structures across the Maghreb have changed, with a shift towards smaller nuclear families, rather than the traditional extended family groups.
The report concludes that based on past patterns, future generations will likely aspire to live in smaller, nuclear families. It warns this will likely lead to increased pressure on housing needs across the Maghreb region, and notes an urgent need for new housing infrastructure.
Challenges of urbanization
HCP projects that the Maghreb’s population will grow to 131.9 million in 2050 (45.5 million in Morocco, up from 35 million in 2018) and that a key challenge for states will be the continued urbanization of the population.
The report projects that by 2050, 79.9% of the population will be urbanized, with the highest rate of urbanization in Libya (88.4%), and the lowest in Mauritania (72.9%), with Morocco following next (73.6%).
Between 1980 and 2018, the regional urban population tripled. HCP warns that future urbanization will require “colossal efforts” in relation to infrastructure, water, transport, health, and waste management to sustain the population. It will also require countries in the Maghreb to intervene to prevent the marginalization of urban populations due to poverty.
The report warns of significant pressures on job markets, as between 2018 and 2030, 4 million new job seekers will be searching for work across the region.
Referencing the increasing rate of university educated individuals, it warns the Maghreb will need to find avenues for its educated workforce.
The population in the Maghreb is aging quickly. The number of people over 60 years of age will almost triple by 2050 to 30.5 million.
Countries will face increased pressure on retirement schemes. The report flags that, in 2018, only 20% of Moroccans over 60 received a pension, as opposed to 35% in Algeria and 38% in Tunisia.
An aging population means that countries will need to increase spendings on health, the report notes, especially as nuclear families are less likely to look after older family members.
Countries will also have to shift their spending towards age-related pathologies (heart disease, diabetes, cancers, etc.) at the expense of addressing infectious diseases.
HCP recognizes the brain drain is causing qualified workers from the Maghreb to migrate towards countries in Europe or elsewhere so that they might have a better chance with more professional opportunities.
It warns countries to need to address the issue, particularly given that educated workers could represent a development potential for the region.
It emphasizes that if the Maghreb does not make any efforts to maintain connections with its diaspora, workers might be absorbed into the overseas society they have moved to. With this, the Maghreb will lose any potential benefits.
Solutions: a focus on youth
According to the HCP, the key solution to tackling demographic pressures across the Maghreb is to invest in youth.
For HCP, the Maghreb’s first priority should be massive investments in education (particularly for girls and vulnerable youth), training, employment, social security and health of youth.
It recommends that countries establish employment and training strategies to promote youth engagement and promote entrepreneurship.
It concludes by noting that young people should be involved in decision making processes and the creation of any programs set up to meet their needs. Youth participation is, therefore, the key to addressing inevitable demographic pressures in the Maghreb.