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Age-specific Ratios and Demographic Ageing in Middle East & North Africa

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Age-specific ratios provide an important insight into both current and future trends of demographic transitions in the MENA region. The age-structural trends across the region illustrate that despite the absolute population growth numbers, the MENA region is going through a similar age- structural transition as other world regions. Whereas today, the region is endowed with a young population in which the age groups 0–24 and 24–64 form approximately 95 percent of the entire population, this picture is to shift dramatically over the coming decades.

The fastest-growing age group is the group beyond sixty-four years of age. These figures highlight compositional transitions in the percentages of child dependents and those of working age, and emerging patterns of demographic ageing. As residents of the region age, their social needs and potential economic contributions transition.

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The age-specific structural transitions currently under way across MENA countries inform the character and effectiveness of government policies, public planning and social cohesion. The relative reflexivity of governments in the region to respond to the evolving requirements and priorities of expanding societies will in part determine the effects of these demographic transitions. As such, social protection systems in the region face a double burden of needing to both extend and improve upon services offered to youth of working age, and prepare these systems to meet the evolving needs of ageing populations. However, in the short-term future, the MENA region is experiencing a youth bulge that requires specific policy attention.

Demographic Ageing

During the second half of the twentieth century, improvements in medical care and public health measures resulted in rapid increases in life expectancy, particularly across developing countries. Most spectacularly, Lebanon for instance saw an increase in the country’s average life expectancy from sixty-seven to almost eighty years in the period from 1990 to 2015. Part of this success story is owed to the end of the Lebanese civil war, yet dramatically improved healthcare services with access to modern medical technology have contributed to this life expectancy revolution in both Lebanon and the entire region. However, this is likely to incrementally impact societies in the MENA region.

The general downward trend in TFR has also resulted in a relative decline in dependent children as a proportion of the total population. The interplay – between declining fertility and mortality rates – has resulted in an increase in demographic ageing. In combination with other factors, such as return migration to other regions, and the emigration of working age populations, these shifts have further increased the old age dependency ratio. This ratio represents the dependency burden relative to economically active age groups, understood as the proportion of the population aged sixty-five years or older in relation to those of working age (fifteen to sixty-four years old).

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