The lessons of Morocco’s census

Friday 24/04/2015
An increasingly older population

CASABLANCA (Morocco) - With an average birth rate of 2.19 children per woman, Moroc­co’s fertility rate has reached a level near­ly as low as that of France, raising many questions about the factors at play in the North African country’s demographic transition.

The population of the North Af­rican country reached 33,848,242 inhabitants on September 1, 2014, according to preliminary results of the census issued in March by the Moroccan High Commission for Planning.

The population’s growth rate, which continues to decline, has been only 1.25% per year over the last 10 years. From an average of seven children per woman in 1962, the fertility rate dropped to 2.5 children per woman in 2004 and 2.19 in 2014.

Most analysts as­cribe the falling growth rate to several factors: A longer edu­cational path, rural-urban migration, the cost of living, family planning and the delay of first marriage.

Longer education

More Moroccans have chosen to further their education and obtain post-graduate degrees in order to improve their employment prospects in an in­creasingly competitive job market.

“The rising level of education among women has impacted fertil­ity, both materially and culturally,” Professor Mustapha Karmouni told The Arab Weekly.

Highly educated women are much more likely to delay child-bearing and have smaller families than women with no formal educa­tion and, in turn, contribute to the decline of the country’s population growth.

The urbanisation rate, which was 55.1% in 2004, rose to 60.3% in 2014. The increase is the result of rural migration to major cities in Morocco as the North African kingdom has witnessed a noticeable shift to non-agricultural economic activities.

The construction boom in the cit­ies, which took off in 2005, drew a sizeable labour force mainly from rural communities where many people are looking for better jobs, higher incomes and easier access to health care services. Moreover, ma­jor cities such as Casablanca and Ra­bat have expanded at the expense of agricultural land, further shrinking rural areas.

However, the urban transition could exacerbate poverty and create shanty towns unless the Moroccan government pursues policies that lead to sustainable urban growth.

Family planning

Many women in urban areas are using some form of fam­ily planning thanks to easy access to modern contra­ceptive methods and better overall health care condi­tions.

The contraceptive pill is the most widely used modern method for fam­ily planning, according to gynaecologist Dr Mo­hamed Annacer Zhiri. “Married couples, even from lower income groups, are now more conscious than ever about having fewer children,” Zhiri told The Arab Weekly. “Four decades ago, there were four to six children per couple. Now, parents understand that they are better off with two children in order to look after them properly and give them a solid education,” he said.

“If people had been conscious about the necessity of contraception and family planning in the 1970s, Morocco would have had a smaller population and higher income per capita while resources would have been better distributed,” he added.

Cost of living

The soaring cost of living in urban areas has driven many parents to have fewer children in order to make ends meet.

A costly private education is one of the key factors behind fertility decline among households in urban areas, where schooling fees absorb a significant part of family income.

“My wife and I decided not to have a third child because we are spending a fortune on our children’s education,” Adil, an entrepreneur in his late 30s, told The Arab Weekly.

“Children have become a liability in our society. We can only blame the poor educational system in our public schools and universities.”

The rising age of marriage is an­other crucial factor behind fertil­ity’s decline. The average age of first marriage has soared by 10 years since 1960, and is 31.4 years among men and 26.6 among women. Some 1.3 million Moroccans are single.

Karmouni, who has been cam­paigning for women’s legal rights in rural areas, said the delay in mar­riage “has reduced the duration of childbearing among women”.

Salaries in urban areas have stag­nated while housing and rental pric­es have shot up, forcing young men to believe that their standard of liv­ing would drop dramatically if they had to support a wife and children.

Ageing of the population

As life expectancy continues to rise and fertility rates edge towards a level of fewer than two children per woman, the number of people aged 60 and over will increase from 2.7 million in 2010 to 10.1 million in 2050, which would represent 24.5% of the total population compared to 7.2% and 8.1% in 1960 and 2004, re­spectively.

Morocco is experiencing the first signs of a demographic transition already occurring in much of the West, with a slower population growth combined with rising ur­banisation. The government needs to consider the impact of population ageing on economic productivity. It will have to take structured meas­ures to avoid the overcrowding of major cities (such as Casablanca and Rabat) and stem rural exodus.

It also remains to be seen, also, how Morocco will handle the de­mands of an ageing population. If estimates prove true the number of pensioners will rise almost three-fold in the next 35 years creating a daunting challenge for the authori­ties.