Killing Women or Importing Men?

I was playing around with the population pyramids here:

Looking at demographics is something Economists do.

Malthus, the founder of demographics, was one of the first Economists and started the whole field. It was due to his theories about overpopulation and the inevitable collapse that Economics is called “The Dismal Science”. It is at times like this that I must agree with that name.

In general, the age pyramid is mostly expected to fall into a couple of patterns. A broad based pyramid (that actually looks like an Egyptian Pyramid) indicates a population with many children and few folks living to old age. That’s typical in poverty ridden 3rd world nations where life is fast and short (so folks have many babies in the hope one survives to be an adult). In rich nations, it tends to look like a short version of the Washington Monument. Mostly straight sides, turning in at the top. Other shapes tell you other things. The “men” side tends to lean in faster as men die younger, for example. The “baby boom” after W.W.II shows up like a bulge traveling up the Washington Monument from year to year (eventually to fade out at the top).

Other “odd things” can show up too. A plague or war can put a “waist” in the sides, for example. So I was looking at countries and thinking things like “Sub Sahara Africa is a 3rd world place in trouble” and “Northern Europe is not having enough children to support their retirement systems” and “North Africa and Turkey are having more kids than they can support if a cold time comes… so about those empty slots in Europe?…”

The various Muslim States typically (but not always) having an unsustainable birth rate that pretty much assures they will have Malthusian problems in a couple of decades… as their “too many babies” turn into “too many unemployed men and women with 4 more kids”. Then I looked at “The Gulf States”. The places where particularly strict forms of Islam exist in an Arab cultural background. I was not ready to see so strange a chart.

First, as a counter example, Yemen. It has the typical “3rd world poverty” profile:

Yemen Population Pyramid

Yemen Population Pyramid

Wide base, narrow top, smooth taper to the sides.

Then, a shape more typical of a society entering modernity where wealth and education of women leads to more contraception and a ‘transition’ toward straight sides. In this case it is a bit of a ‘waist’ shape, so may also indicate some kind of disruptive event as well. Perhaps an artifact of different birth rates during the Iran / Iraq war, or economic disruption at home.

Iran Population Pyramid

Iran Population Pyramid

The W.W.II “baby boom” had some of that kind of ‘bulge’ shape, though a bit more rounded. Also wars tend to put a reduction of population on the male side from those of fighting age during the war. Here the ‘wide spot’ is in the 20 to 30 year olds. So born from 1983 to 1993. From the wiki on the history of Iran:

“Khomeini served as leader of the revolution or as Supreme Leader of Iran from 1979 to his death on June 3, 1989. This era was dominated by the consolidation of the revolution into a theocratic republic under Khomeini, and by the costly and bloody war with Iraq.

The consolidation lasted until 1982–3”

So just after the Iranian revolution had the dust settle, a bunch of kids. Then things don’t look quite so disrupted later and the birth rate drops off again. Basically, when the Iraq war was a threat and Khomeini was pushing for a load of kids to send off to war, folks had a lot of kids. Once he was gone, they chose fewer. That’s a common pattern. Folks want to know a couple of kids will survive to be adults. Raise the threat to parent or children and you get more kids born as “insurance”. Provide a safe reliable life, folks have fewer kids and spend more time enjoying the free life. So not hard to explain that bulge.

What surprised me were the other Gulf States. Iraq has the “3rd world” shape like Yemen, so I won’t put it here. But lets look at the rest of the states. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain. I was completely unprepared to see this pattern.

Saudi Arabia Population Pyramid

Saudi Arabia Population Pyramid

What is the ‘deal’ with that big lump of men on one side of the pyramid? Gender at birth is a more or less random event and about 50 : 50 odds (men more by a single percent or so, as they die off more later). To get that shape, something has to be killing off the women preferentially, or a very large men-only immigration happened. It’s that kind of question that it’s just hard to let run away…

Kuwait Population Pyramid

Kuwait Population Pyramid

For Kuwait we would expect to see some kind of artifact from the Iraqi occupation and war. Again, we have the ‘bulge’ of men. But even bigger. Men die in battle. Sometimes women are taken as war trophy brides in some cultures, but that was not done in the Kuwait war (as the USA drove the Iraqi army out).

Or maybe it’s just a very local artifact. How about a couple further away from the conflict zone. Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Bahrain Population Pyramid

Bahrain Population Pyramid

UAE Population Pyramid

UAE Population Pyramid

Qatar Population Pyramid

Qatar Population Pyramid

There are times I really wish I wasn’t an Economist and really wish I wasn’t compulsively curious and really wish I was happy to just watch mindless TV and trust government. I would hope it is a data error, perhaps hiding women at home and not having them counted in the census. But in ALL those countries? While not in other Islamic states? Or even in 3rd world Islamic states? (This pattern does not show up in the African Islamic countries, nor those of south east Asia). So the mind starts to imagine the worst.

It could be preferential abortion so as to have a son, or to have the ‘eldest’ be a son. (Though I don’t really believe that). It could be that the sexual surgery / mutilation of women leads to higher death rates. It could be death in childbirth (unlikely in those rich countries and not showing up in the 3rd world profiles…). Or perhaps 1/2 the population is imported male workers. Which of these things can it be?

But I end up thinking that it could be “honor killings”. Notice that the sex ratio is the same right up until just about puberty. Can we really trust that various men are not just choosing the “I accuse” rather than divorce? (Islam mandates payment of an estate to the woman in a divorce). Can we expect that when “being alone in the presence of a man” is grounds for stoning under Sharia that there isn’t some stoning going on? Yet puberty is also about the age that men go on journeys and adventures. Could there be that many?

For Qatar, a case can be made that they are male guest workers:

Natives of the Arabian Peninsula, many Qataris are descended from a number of migratory tribes that came to Qatar in the 18th century to escape the harsh conditions of the neighboring areas of Nejd and Al-Hasa. Some are descended from Omani tribes. Qatar has over 1.5 million people, the majority of whom (about 90%) live in Doha, the capital. Foreign workers with temporary residence status make up about four-fifths of the population. Most of them are South Asians, Egyptians, Palestinians, Jordanians, Iranians and Somalis. About 5,000 U.S. citizens resided there as of 2001.

At 4/5 ‘temporary workers’ you could get that kind of a sex ratio skew. (In which case it does not speak well of the life style of the ‘temporary workers’…) But at least now the worst fears are starting to fade.

A similar pattern shows up for Bahrain.

Non-nationals make up 54% of the population of Bahrain.
Of those, the vast majority come from South and Southeast Asia: according to various media reports and government statistics dated between 2005-2009 roughly 290,000 Indians, 125,000 Bangladeshis, 45,000 Pakistanis, 45,000 Filipinos, and 8,000 Indonesians

I didn’t see such data for Saudi Arabia (though they do import labor). I could likely search more, but I think we’re seeing the pattern already.

For Kuwait we also see imported population:

Approximately 96% of Kuwait’s population is urbanized while 4% are nomadic or semi-nomadic. The State of Kuwait’s current population is estimated at roughly 3-3.5 million people; counting both locals and foreigners. Roughly 1 million (or nearly one third) of Kuwait’s population is local, with 2-2.5 million residents registered as foreigners/non-locals. It is estimated that one in every 3–4 people in Kuwait are of Kuwaiti citizenship.

In 2009, more than 580,000 Indian nationals lived in Kuwait making them the single largest expatriate community there.[2][3] The rest of the foreign population mainly consists of Egyptians, Palestinians, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Filipino and Sri Lankan residents. Other foreigners consist of European, North American and Northeast Asian communities – but these are negligible.

The graph gives Kuwait as population 2.7 Million while this wiki entry says 3 to 3.5 Million, so something doesn’t quite line up. But the gross trends are about right. The wiki on the UAE is less clear, but does include this quote:

“Population growth in the United Arab Emirates is among the highest in world, mostly due to immigration. According to census data there was a sevenfold increase between 1975 and 2005”

A seven fold increase would be a lot of immigration.

In Conclusion

So that’s how a dip in the demographic pool goes. Look at a chart, see a shape. Have some idea what is going on for most of them. Then something “odd” shows up. Ideas bubble. In the end, you find that there may well be honor killings and differential health impacts, but that the most likely answer is that a lot of young men are imported to provide labor.

Yet that, too, comes to tell a disturbing tale.

First off, that implies that the difference between a Yemen pattern and a Gulf pattern is mostly about money. Yemen is not rich, the Gulf is way over-rich. It implies, too, that Iraq and Iran being more isolationist and Shiia have a very different ethos about ‘imported workers’. That the ‘gap’ between them, and their neighbors, is very large. That Sunni / Shiia divide changes many things about their countries.

Then we wonder: What is life like in a country where 1/2 to 3/4 of the population are ‘temporary workers’ and many more men than women? What happens when the folks who can rule (or vote) are a small minority and the working class can be ejected if they are not subservient? How do you ‘get by’ as a woman in a country where you can not be alone in the presence of a man not a direct relative, yet the country is chock full of men not your relative?

Why are there so many folks brought in for labor? Are the locals just lazy and rich? Or just making a load of money off of industries in their country in excess of what they themselves could operate? Can that be a stable situation for long? Do these young men work for a while, then leave? Causing a constant turnover of ‘displaced foreigners’ trying to adjust? What happens if the oil slows down, or Fracking makes a new oil glut?

And, perhaps most interesting, but also most speculative: IFF that is shown to work relatively well, with citizenship, country and family disconnected from work: Can a similar “work, look, but don’t touch” program be used in Europe for places like Greece where their demographics will have them culturally cease to exist if they just allow open immigration of whole family units.

Or is the EU so structured that Greece will become Northern Libya and Western Turkey by default?

Such is the journey that starts with “Why is that bump there?”…

But at least we know it is most likely not related to women and dying. And that’s a very good thing.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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21 Responses to Killing Women or Importing Men?

  1. Adam Gallon says:

    Selective abortion for female foetuses and infanticide may account for the strange shapes seen in some of the charts?
    Remember that the dowry comes with the bride. This is certainly prevelent in Indian culture.
    Islam does prohibit female infanticide, but also prohibits drinking alcohol.

  2. Espen says:

    E.M.: A short note about Iran: The reason they have a very low fertility rate (currently at 1.87, i.e. not enough to sustain the population in the long run – see has been a very successful family planning program which has now been reversed, see

    Here’s something about the sex ratio in Bahrain: – note that “The high adult sex ratios are mainly due to male migration.”

    One more comment above the CIA World Fact Book fertility rate ranking: Note that it’s also very low in Brunei – another islamic extremely rich country with a well-educated female population.

    Money and women’s education is the key to birth control. So much that I wonder how we’ll be able to reproduce when the whole world has reached the economic and educational threshold where fertility rate drops below 2.1… which, in my optimistic view, it will in the not at all too distant future. Even The Mighty Church Of AGW is not going to stop that.

  3. pyramid link at head of article links back to this article.

    Interesting presentation here on how development lowers birth rates.


    We won’t mention that the prime agent of development for a country is energy … i.e. fossil fuels…

  4. Espen says:

    oops, a cut and paste error above, but I guess it is understandable – it should of course be “One more comment on the above CIA World Fact Book fertility ranking”

  5. philjourdan says:

    Espen you added some good material to the thought provoking article by EM. An interesting paradox is emerging. And the source of it is the non-quantifiable concept of Fair.

  6. DirkH says:

    “Then we wonder: What is life like in a country where 1/2 to 3/4 of the population are ‘temporary workers’ and many more men than women?”

    As a Western expat you live in an apartment. A male aide picks you up in the morning and accompanies you to the company you work at. There are only males at the company. After work the aide brings you back to your apartment.

    You don’t walk around alone. You could look at females (even though that would be rather boring anyway as they’re covered from head to toe in shapeless bags).

    This is how they run Dubai.

    “Why are there so many folks brought in for labor? Are the locals just lazy and rich?”

    Lazy, rich and incapable of doing the job.

  7. Gary says:

    Have you checked the demographic pyramids of the countries that export temporary workers — mostly southeast Asian ones IIRC? Any sign of lower proportions of males in the suspect age groups?

  8. Ralph B says:

    I am presently in one of those countries with the left bulge. I am here with my wife and daughter there are several controls put in place to limit the interaction of the low wage imported male labor force and those accompanied. For example…the large nicer malls are off limits to laborers on the weekends, and labor camps are outside the city limits. Even so if my wife goes out shopping by herself sh is always followed by some hungry guy. I don’t let her out alone and she knows how to take care of herself not putting herself in risky situations. The local national women are closely guarded. A while back I knew of a guy that was directed by authorities to “stay away from someone”. He wasn’t even pursuing a relationship but I guess she had displayed interest in him. For the better paid expats there are plenty of working women to be found.

  9. sabretoothed says:

    Probably women dying in childbirth. And maybe something to do with Polygamy?

  10. Gösta Oscarsson says:

    In this connection I sincerely recommend everybody to examin Hans Rosling’s Gapminder. This is, to my mind, the best system for comparative studies on economic, demographic and social factors and the interactions between those factors..It covers in principle all countries of the world and is also very easy to handle.

  11. nemesis says:

    Don’t forget a lot of Arab states import female labour as domestic servants, though probably much less than male imported labour (and I have heard that the immigrant females are treated appallingly).
    Dubai and some other regions are now much more geared towards tourism rather than depend on oil revenues.
    Samizdata also have a post on population from a slightly different angle:
    ‘Midwesterner’ in the comments links to this article which I found fascinating. It is to do with Calhoun’s research in his experiments with small rodent populations when they reach a critical level and the subsequent social pathology. Parallels are drawn with human population.

  12. Graeme says:

    have you factored in the immigration from Pakistan and India to the Gulf States. Migrants to the oil-rich nations, to do the grunt-work like the Turkish gastarbeiters in Germany?

  13. John Robertson says:

    What does India and Pakistan look like?
    We have known they select for boys since the technology spread, so maybe the shape of those two will give a clue

  14. E.M.Smith says:

    @John Robertson:


    Looks like an ordinary “3rd world in transition to modern” with smooth sides and modestly narrowing pyramid shape near strait sided for 20 and below. India will be a 1st world profile in 20 more years and showing relative stable healthy population figures.


    A more “3rd world” look until 10 years old traunch. A bit more narrow than a real 3rd world, so making some economic / health progress. Then it gets an odd “pinch” to it. About a 1% out of 10% reduction (or a 10% reduction of that age group) for births around 2003 to 2008. Wonder what happened then… Only a 0.2% gender difference, though.

    I think that the places are both still so poor that the bulk of the population can’t pay for gender selection (or don’t think it worth the money). Or they just don’t care as much as reports made it sound…

    From the Pakistan wiki:

    In 2001, Musharraf named himself President after the resignation of Rafiq Tarar. In the 2002 Parliamentary Elections, Musharraf transferred executive powers to newly elected Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, who was succeeded in the 2004 by Shaukat Aziz. On 15 November 2007 the National Assembly completed its term and a caretaker government was appointed with the former Chairman of The Senate, Muhammad Mian Soomro as Prime Minister. Following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, that resulted in a series of important political developments, her husband Asif Ali Zardari was eventually elected as the new President in 2008.

    So political turmoil and “caretaker” government… OK, folks decided not to take on more responsibilities during “bad times”…

  15. Richard Ilfeld says:

    “their demographics will have them culturally cease to exist if they just allow open immigration of whole family units.” Reinforcing the genius of forming a nation upon an idea rather than a tribal identity. The Greeks, you assert, most likely correctly, cannot find immigrants to become Greek. We should, however, have little trouble adjusting immigration as necessary, by finding folks who believe “All Men are Created Equal……

    One possible reason we might solve some of our more intractable problems in time, while some other nations continue to struggle.

  16. Zeke says:

    Yes Mohammed has 4 wives. Demography can be a useful tool but since when is it anything but a soft science, loaded with philosophical commitments just like economics? And why is it so unevenly applied, in order to favor Malthus?

    For example, European populations indeed are known by demographers not to be replacing themselves – in many cases, the death rate exceeding the birth rate. The population growth is mainly because of immigrants who are not conjugial and do not respect marriage to one wife. And yet it is forbidden to say that in 50 years, Europe will be Muslim. This is also demographics.

  17. Espen says:

    Zeke, it’s just like in some of the mentioned rich moslem countries: The daughters of moslem immigrants in Europe (at least I know this applies to Scandinavia) get higher education and no more children (in fact I think a Danish survey concluded with fewer) than the “native women”.

  18. Shooter says:

    @Zeke Not so. Muslim birthrates are also falling. As such, the UNPD has to constantly revise their estimates. The Muslim world has undergone the most rapid in fertility changes. Iran, Bahrain, Qatar, Lebanon, and many more have below replacement fertility. Muslim women are having fewer and fewer children – these are facts.

    In 50 years the Muslim world will be shrunk in half. Yet it is forbidden to say this. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

    The world’s total TFR is 2.45. Nearing replacement. The world’s population isn’t spinning out of control – rather the opposite. The population peak is now 8 billion or so, not 9 billion.

  19. Shooter.

    Not so in Europe, where Muslim birthrates are often double that of the locals. I gather it is called “Womb Jihad”.

    Trouble ahead.

  20. E.M.Smith says:

    @Shooter & Jeremy:

    The birthrates for Muslims are ‘all over the board’ by country, but still more than europeans (check individual countries at the link in the article).

    Inside Europe, since native Europeans are below replacement, any Muslim growth rate means Muslim Europe is guaranteed in time.

    Just look at “Christian Lebanon” for your future path. “Demographics is Destiny”.

  21. You know, I lived in inner city Bristol for 23 years; place was full of Muslims. Good people. They regenerated the are economically, and they integrated. My kids played football in the streets with their kids. Their young women wore headscarves, make up, had a Bristolian accent, and were gorgeous. It worked, and it worked because it happened organically, everyone worked to get on with each other (lots of other immigrant nations there), and it worked as it needed no legislation and overseeing to work.

    I’m in the country now. Frome, a little market town from the 8th century. Maybe 30,000 people here; very few of coloured skin, tho’ oddly, Pee Wee Ellis, who played sax with James Brown, God rest his soul, and Van Morrison. Otherwise, rural South West England has few of colour, none of Muslim persuasion. We’ll be fine here, but the likes of London will be torn to pieces by this. It’s not new. My father was in the rag trade; the cotton trade, in Manchester, which traded with the Old South for years, and was united in the abolition cause during the Civil War, despite the loss of trade with the South. I would work for him in the school holidays, and occasionally drove samples to Bradford or Halifax for him, over the Pennines in Yorkshire. Even in the late 60s, you could have been in the sub-continent. For a long time, it worked – we’re a pretty tolerant people, the English, truth be told (and I don’t say “British”, as 90%+ of immigrants to Britain (or, to be precise, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) end up in England, but intolerable strains are now happening. It is now known that the last Labour government opened the floodgates in order to [SNIP] with the English; as it has. Whilst Christianity is under attack everywhere ( we pander to Islam wholesale. Invite hate preachers into the country. Prosecute those who speak out against Islam; indeed, a few years back, the TV channel, Channel 4, did an undercover investigative program on hate preachers in UK mosques. They got prosecuted for inciting religious hatred.

    As noted above – I have no problems with Muslims. Ordinary Joes like you and I; Islam however is another matter altogether, and it is entirely against what we in the West hold dear; and rather than combating that we are encouraging it, and soothing it. At 61, I’m glad I won’t be here in 40 years, and I hope my kids and my grandkids get by OK.

    I don’t know how it will pan out. Twenty years ago, with the fall of the Wall, I was pretty sanguine about the future. Bush and Blair piling into Iraq – God rot their souls – has changed all that, and we won’t be able to turn it back without serious bloodshed, I do believe.

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