Exploring total populations by sex reveals that the female population of 54 million in 1950 rose to 277 million by 2017, and is expected to increase further to 504 million by 2100. The male population has increased from 55 million in 1950 to 292 million by 2017, reaching 514 million males by 2100. The male population is thus marginally higher, with a gender ratio of roughly 51 percent male and 49 percent female, more than would naturally occur. Figure 4 shows a general increase in the ratio of males per 100 females in the Gulf countries.
Economic migration to the oil-producing Gulf states has had a discernible impact on gender ratios within the sub-region, especially from the late 1970s and with a significant increase since the oil boom of the 2000s. Return migration from outside the region has also been identified as one of the plausible factors contributing to this trend. In addition to the economic opportunities presented by the oil boom of the 2000s, greater travel restrictions from the region to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries following the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York are understood to have been followed by native Arabs returning to the MENA region.
Projections beyond 2017 would indicate a decline in the male skewed sex ratio between 2010 and 2100 as inward migration of expatriate male labour force is expected to slow. In part, this downturn in male migration workers bound for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and the subsequent impact on the sex ratio, is understood to be a consequence of lower oil prices and the associated economic impacts. Combined with this, the increased effort to diversify GCC economies away from petro-chemical and industrial to service sectors, and national programmes focusing on encouraging native labour force growth, are expected to further dampen rates of inward migration. Despite these higher ratios among mostly GCC countries, across the region as a whole, the birth rates of female and male populations between 1950 and 2016 reflected those of the total population. The ratio of male survivors to females above the age of retirement for the region has continued to decrease since 1980, partly owing to the high male death tolls of the Iran–Iraq War (1980–8), the First Gulf War and other conflicts across the region. While age-specific sex ratios appear relatively stable below twenty-five years of age, for age groups above sixty-nine years old these ratios diverge sharply.
The recent conflict in Syria, however, has seen an eight-year reduction in life expectancy for men relative to a reduction of just over one year for women. This trend of fewer men surviving to older age than women implies that greater numbers of women are likely to be widowed or simply have proportionally higher levels of dependency among the older age categories than men.
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