NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Tunisian Women and Economy on the Rise

August 26, 2003

The birth rate in Tunisia dropped from 7.2 in the 1960s to 2.08 in 2000. Experts say the decline was due to a campaign to lower the birth rates and advocate birth control that began in the 1950s. Consequently, Tunisia is being hailed as a model for other countries that want to close the wealth gap with western nations.

  • Tunisia spends the equivalent of 18 percent of its gross domestic product of $21 billion on social programs, especially family planning and the expansion of women's rights, either through legislation or special projects.
  • Each year, $10 million is spent to teach citizens about family planning and dispense birth control.
  • To inform the one-third of Tunisians that live in rural areas, the government relies partly on mobile teams -- a nurse, a social worker, a midwife and a driver -- to dispense reproductive health services.
  • If births had continued at their 1950s rate, the population today would be 15 million instead of 10 million.
  • With fewer children to raise, women have become a large part of the work force and also attend local universities at a higher rate than men.
  • The construction of primary schools stopped a decade ago as the average number of students in a class dropped from 38 in 1985 to 28 in 2000; in some schools, first grade has been eliminated because there aren't enough new students.

However, the drop in the birth rate also led to a population bulge; nearly two-thirds of the population today is of working age, 15 to 59 years old. The World Bank puts the unemployment rate at 16 percent. But a rise in foreign investment led to a 5 percent annual growth rate over the past 6 years.

Source: Gautam Naik, "Tunisia Wins Population Battle, And Others See a Policy Model," Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2003.

For WSJ text,,SB106028926761045100-search,00.html


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