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UAE birth rate falls by nearly 50%

UAE residents are living longer, but having dramatically fewer children than they used to, according to the World Health Organisation.

Source: World Health Organisation

Residents of the UAE are living longer and staying healthier, but having dramatically fewer children than they used to, according to the World Health Organisation. While life expectancy rose from 73 years in 1990 to 78 by 2007, the birth rate almost halved over the same period, from 4.4 children per woman to just 2.3, according to the latest edition of the WHO's World Health Statistics. Fertility rates have been falling in the UAE for three decades, but the sharp decline prompted calls for Emirati women to be given incentives to have larger families. Although the figures can be attributed in part to a rise in female expatriate residents of the UAE, one expert said the drop was reflective of wider changes in Emirati society. Dr Fatma al Sayegh, a professor of UAE and Gulf history at UAE University in Al Ain, said the decline was to be expected. She said women were now better educated, more ambitious and married later - all of which led them to have fewer children. However, she said the country's "demographic problem" meant it was "a national necessity" that birth rates be increased. "The decline in the number of nationals will impact on the whole of society," she said. "We want [women] to work but we want them at the same time to have more children." Dr al Sayegh praised government efforts to encourage Emiratis to inter-marry, including initiatives such as state-funded mass weddings. But she called for greater maternity leave payments and better workplace childcare. Dr Rima al Sabban, a sociologist, said some of the decline in the birth rate could be accounted for by the influx of expatriates. In addition, she said, "there seems to be a movement, especially among the younger generation, where they believe they don't want to have as many children as their mothers. This change of perception needs to be addressed at a national level." The WHO figures showed sharp improvements on many measures of development - of which family size is traditionally one. On another measure, life expectancy, UAE women could expect, on average, to reach the age of 80, while the figure for men was 77. In 2007 "healthy life expectancy" for both men and women - defined as the number of years that a person can expect to live in full health - was 68. munderwood@thenational.ae jgornall@thenational.ae

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