According to a World Bank report, with proper policies to slow population growth, Egypt could have 141 million by 2050 instead of the expected 160 million. Egypt’s current population is nearly 105 million.
A report published in Cairo, “Achieving the Demographic Dividend in the Arab Republic of Egypt: Choice, Not Destiny,” argues that slowing population growth can be used to strengthen the economy.” It states, “economic benefit to a country that can happen within a window of 15 to 20 years when it undergoes a demographic transition due to a rapid decline in mortality followed by a rapid decline in fertility.” It is emphasized that this will lead to “to smaller, healthier families, and a youth cohort that can be educated and empowered to enter the labor market and match a dynamic labor demand.”
Under this scenario, Egypt could see very large savings in public expenditure by 2030, namely in housing, education, and healthcare, which can be channeled into other areas of the national budget. Analyzing different scenarios for declining birth rates, the World Bank estimates Egypt’s potential cumulative GDP growth between 2020 and 2030 at between £284.9 billion and £569 billion. However, it warns that the economy could lose up to £103.5 trillion in GDP between 2020 and 2050 if appropriate measures are not taken to accelerate the declining birth rate scenario.
Financial experts believe “Egypt has missed large economic gains by narrowing its demographic dividend opportunity”: “The country was on a path of declining fertility and an increasing share of its working-age population… But it came off that path and hurt its economy—by an estimated LE 150 billion in 2019 GDP—because of a high dependency ratio.” Between 1988 and 2008, policies to promote family planning and empower women led to a decline in the number of births per woman from 4.5 in 1988 to 3.0 in 2008. But the downward trend reversed, and by 2014 the number of births per woman had increased again to 3.5. This change is not only alarming, but is observed in only a few countries in the world, experts say.
After 2005, the number of children in the families of educated urban and wealthier women increased. This is in contrast to global trends, where the declining birth rate is led by the families of the wealthier classes. The increase in the number of children in families is probably the main reason for the change in the birth rate, which should also be an important input in setting demographic policy priorities. In 2014, the resulting increase in the birth rate led to a so-called “youth boom” in which 33.2% of the population was under 14 years old. Meanwhile, 5.1% of the population was 60 and older, leading to an increase in the dependency ratio from 59.6% to 61.8% between 2010 and 2014.
To change this situation, the Egyptian authorities are recommended to increase contraceptive distribution, increase female labor force participation, delay the onset of the age of marriage, strengthen social protection programs, and improve the management of the population program. Among the factors influencing Egypt’s rise in birth rate growth is undoubtedly a decrease in media attention to messages about family planning and reproductive health, as well as reduced availability of information and advice on family planning and reproductive health; a limited range of contraceptive methods and changing methods of choice for women. There is also a trend toward earlier marriages, even among educated women in cities, which results in babies born to younger mothers and with shorter birth intervals.
In this context, it is suggested that social protection initiatives such as the Takaful and Karama cash transfer programs be used to promote girls’ education and women’s access to healthcare, particularly family planning services. Positive mention is also made of the Decent Life Initiative, launched in January 2019, and the National Project for the Development of the Egyptian Family, launched in February 2022, as useful tools to “implement many of the proposed policies and strategies.” In recent years, the country has launched several parallel campaigns and programs to curb rapid population growth. In addition, annual spending amounted to more than 100 million Egyptian pounds (about $5.2 million) on providing family planning methods free or at reduced cost.
Last August, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) reported that Egypt’s birth rate per woman had dropped by 20% from 3.5 births per woman in 2014 to 2.8 in 2021. Egypt aims to further reduce the birth rate to 1.6 births per woman, according to CAPMAS Chairman Advisor Hussein Abdel-Aziz. However, the United Nations Population Division defines any rate below 2.1 births per woman as below replacement level.
Promoting women’s employment is also considered crucial to lowering the birth rate. In this regard, there are studies that show that the lack of employment opportunities in the formal sector, unfavorable working conditions for women (e.g., maternity policies, lack of flexible work schedules), and the disproportionate burden of domestic responsibilities are among the factors that contribute to women withdrawing from the labor market to instead invest their time and energy in marriage and childbearing.
Better management of the population program is seen as key to the success of birth reduction efforts. The Egypt National Population Strategy (ENPS) 2015-2030 and the Egypt Population Implementation Plan (EPIP) (2015-2020), while comprehensive, have several weaknesses.
Shortcomings include fragmented management and weak accountability, lack of funding resulting in a 50% funding gap, inability to expand geographic coverage of services due in part to lack of budget allocations, inadequate attention to new sources of rising fertility (including among urban dwellers, the rich, and the poor educated), and a focus on the poorest villages, among other shortcomings. Experts also point to the failure to include men as partners in reproductive health and fertility decisions.
To take full advantage of the demographic dividend, experts stress to Egyptian authorities the need to create jobs and shift the labor force to more productive sectors, create an enabling environment for the private sector and entrepreneurship, and maintain macroeconomic stability and policy predictability.
A survey conducted by the Information and Decision Support Center of the Cabinet of Ministers (IDSC) shows that 75.6% of citizens are aware of the “overpopulation problem” in Egypt. The IDSC survey also found that 52.5% of respondents believe that each family should have no more than two children given the current circumstances, while 29.1% believe that each family should have three children.
Overpopulation in Egypt has been a problem for decades, hindering the provision of a decent standard of living. The government predicts that Egypt will have to double its spending on infrastructure projects and development over the next 30 years to achieve the expected growth.