Prepared by the researcher :Adel Bousnina –University of Tunis
Democratic Arab Center
Journal of Afro-Asian Studies : Fifteenth Issue – November 2022
A Periodical International Journal published by the “Democratic Arab Center” Germany – Berlin.
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The principal aim of this article is to analyze the decline of fertility and demographic transition in Tunisia, its characteristics, its factors, its effects (repercussions) and the perceptions of population on var ious aspects of the demographic problems in Tunisia.
We will focus our interest, in the first part, on a brief analysis of the characteristics of the demographic transition in Tunisia (in particular the decline of mortality and fertility).
The second and the third parts will be centered on the determinants (population policy, nuptiality…) and the effects of the decline of fertility in Tunisia (demographic and economic effects, etc).
Finally, the fourth part will be devoted to the inquiry and the study of the representations, and the analysis of the perceptions and attitudes of the population (in particular the young people) on various aspects relating to the demographic problem in Tunisia, especially fertility, population growth, nuptiality, natality, etc..
The demographic transition in Tunisia is unquestionable, it is attested by the control of the SFI, Synthetic Fertility Index (which went from 7.1 children per woman in 1966 to 2.1 currently) and by the significant drop in the various indicators of mortality (for example the mortality rate, which fell from 25%o in 1956 to 5.9%o in 2018). This demographic transition is inherent in the transformation of nuptiality and reproductive behavior; it has also generated a progressive aging of the population and an undeniable control of demographic growth (Bousnina A., 2015).
Like Bouraoui and Sahli in Tunisia (Bouraoui A. and Sahli S., 1974), and Girard and Bastide in France (Girard A. and Bastide R., 1960), one can ask the following fundamental question: Is the Tunisian population sensitive to these different changes? What is its perception of the different demographic problems and these different transformations? Thus, the study of the perception of the population (of the various questions relating to demography and population) proves to be of great importance, and the main question in this article will be the following: what are the representations and the attitudes of the population on various aspects relating to the demographic problem in Tunisia, in particular population growth, fertility, nuptiality, natality, etc.?
To answer these questions, we will focus our interest, in the first part, on the (very succinct) analysis of the characteristics of the demographic transition in Tunisia (in particular the decline in mortality and fertility). The second and the third parts will be centered on the determinants (Population policy, nuptiality and indirect determinants) and the effects of the decline of fertility in Tunisia (demographic and economic effects, etc). Finally, the fourth part will be devoted to the survey and the study of the representations, and the analysis of the perceptions and attitudes of the population (in particular the young people) on various aspects relating to the demographic problem in Tunisia.
I- The demographic transition in Tunisia
I.1. The evolution of mortality
Mortality has fallen significantly since independence. While the crude death rate was above 24.8%o in 1956, it has since declined very rapidly until the mid-1970s to reach 10%o, before experiencing a slowdown in the rate of decline during the last two decades to stabilize at the level of 5.5%o or 5.9%o over the entire period 1996-2018. The factors contributing to the rapid decline in mortality are multiple:
“-the presence in rural areas of basic health care services and public hospital infrastructures which have made it possible to rapidly increase health coverage […],
– the efforts that have been made through the adoption of regional development strategies to improve the living conditions of households
-the progress made in terms of prenatal follow-up and deliveries in an assisted environment
– the vaccination coverage of children under one year old which exceeded the rate of 90%; poliomyelitis, neonatal tetanus and measles are virtually eliminated” (ITCEQ, 2011, p.21).
I.2. The decline in fertility
The transition from a total fertility rate of 7.15 in 1966 to 2.2 children per woman in 2018 reflects a spectacular change and a substantial modification of reproductive behavior in Tunisia. This considerable decline reflects a significant decline in fertility and birth rates over the past four decades.
Indeed, the evolution of certain indicators shows the progress of the demographic transition experienced in Tunisia. In addition to the decline in mortality (whose crude rate fell from 15%o to 5.9%o between 1966 and 2018), fertility experienced a significant decline and a clear downward trend. For example, during this period, the crude birth rate went from 45.1%o to 17.5%o while the overall fertility rate went from 214.1%o to 65%o.
Table 1: Evolution of some fertility indicators (1966-2018)
|SFI synthetic fertility index||7,15||5,79||4,7||2,9||2,09||2,04||2,05||2,15||2,2|
|Total fertility rate (%o)||214,1||162,1||136,2||89,5||67,8*||–||61,3||65,9||–|
|Crude birth rate (%o)||45,1||36,6||32,3||22,7||16,9||17,1||17,7||18,8||17,5|
|Number of births (in thousands)||206,7||205,4||227,1||200,2||160,2||170,9||184,2||201,1||202,7|
Source: NIS: National Insitute of Statistics (Statistical Yearbooks of Tunisia)
The SFI (which can summarize the indicators related to fertility, since it is the average number of children who would have been born alive to a woman during her reproductive period) has continued to decline to be in below the threshold of 2.2 children per woman in 2018, more than 3 times less than its level 4 decades earlier (Bousnina A., 2016).
Furthermore, it should be noted that the decline in fertility has affected all regions without exception and one can even speak of a “homogenization” of demographic behavior. According to data from the NIS statistical yearbooks in 2011 (for example), the SFI oscillates between 2.6 in Monastir and 1.7 in the District of Tunis (it is equal to 2.2 in the North East, 1.8 in the North West, 2.5 in the Center West, 2.4 in the Center East, 2.4 in the South West and 2.2 in the South East). Thus, the differences have greatly faded and “the fertility transition is evident in all regions of Tunisia, however it differs from one region to another in the date of the start of the transition, in the rate of fertility’s decline and its modalities […]. All the governorates have entered into transition, but some much later than others” (Gastineau B. , 2005, p.15).
On the other hand, this deceleration in the birth rate is due in particular to the fall in fertility rates for all age groups and in particular for the most fertile age groups (25-29 years and 30-34 year). Consequently, the SFI fell from 7.15 in 1966 to 2.2 in 2018, passing through 5.8 in 1975, 4.7 in 1984 and 2.9 in 1994.
Table 2: Evolution of the SFI (Synthetic Fertility Index) (1966-2018)
|Year||SFI||Annual reduction in %|
Source: NIS: Statistical Yearbooks of Tunisia
This rapid and sustained decline in fertility is the result of a combination of several factors. In this respect, a distinction is generally made between two essential categories of fertility determinants, namely the close (or intermediate) determinants and the indirect determinants. The first are “a number of biological or behavioral factors having a direct bearing on fertility. The most important are exposure to the risk of pregnancy through marriage, the duration of postpartum infertility, contraception and induced abortion” while the latter concern socio-economic factors “such as education, the region, the place of residence…”(Ayed M. and Jemai H., 2001, p.182).
II- The determinants of fertility in Tunisia
The spectacular decline in fertility and the transformation of the reproductive behavior of Tunisian women are determined by the combination of several factors that affect – directly or indirectly – fertility.
II.1. Population policy
-The legal and legislative foundations of population policy: After independence, the desire of the Tunisian State to modernize the country and the efforts of promotion and social emancipation resulted in an arsenal of laws and multiple legal texts which lay the groundwork for a demographic policy.
If the search for the promotion of man has been a fundamental constant of the demographic and social policy, a particular interest has been granted to the family which constitutes a relational center with the economic and the social. In reality, the family “is directly involved, more than the individual, in the decision-making process in matters of marriage, fertility, health measures, employment, and education. It is also the practical link of micro-economic calculation, income maximization in savings and consumption. It is also the appropriate place to measure the real gain in terms of birth rate » (Fabri M., 1990, p.43).
From then on, the foundations of population policy diversified and affected the legal and legislative as well as the institutional and the political.
-The Evolution of Family Planning Services : The emergence of the concept of “reproductive health” (at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994) consolidated the overall Tunisian demographic approach and strengthened the efforts of the family planning program to improve the infrastructure and the services provided, particularly in deprived regions. In this regard, several indicators – related to the evolution of the services of this program – are significant.
Indeed, there is an increase in the numbers of new contraceptives (FMARs using a contraceptive method for the first time) which increased from less than 17,000 to more than 128,000 between 1966 and 2000. This growth also concerns the flow of women who visit family planning services since the number of these visits increased from 41,000 to 1,997,000 during the same period. In addition, the qualitative improvement of FP services is evidenced by the progression of prenatal visits and postnatal visits. Between 1986 and 2012, their numbers (in thousands) increased from 124.9 and 9.1 to 593.9 and 107.7 respectively.
-Contraception and fertility: The intensification of FP activities generated a sharp increase in its services and a rapid spread of contraception. Indeed, the contraceptive prevalence rate (defined as the proportion of women among the MARF who use a contraceptive method) exceeded 63% in 2012, whereas it was only 9% in 1966 and 31% in 1978.
This increase (estimated at more than 85% between 1966 and 2012) in contraceptive prevalence rates and the increasingly important adoption of contraception are due in particular to the rapid progress in the distribution of contraceptive methods in the middle rural. During a fairly short period of time (less than 20 years), this rate rose by more than 35 points, going from 30% in 1978 to 65% in 1997.
This improvement is mainly explained by the specific interventions in certain priority regions, and particularly in the 405 gray areas of the Centre-West and the South which have benefited from a specific program (from 1994) which consists of raising mass through facilitators from these regions, and through medical care in reproductive health. Between 1994 and 2000, for example, the contraceptive prevalence rates in certain shaded areas of the governorates of Kasserine and Tozeur increased respectively from 19% and 10% to 52.2% and 72.1%.
This significant improvement in the contraceptive prevalence rate, especially among disadvantaged groups, may reflect the effectiveness of the family planning policy and may reflect “a new behavior which is linked both to the use of contraception and to the dimension socio-cultural, which undeniably operates on the attitudes of social actors” (Belhadjali B.,1989, p.24). The impact of family planning is fundamental since it has succeeded in “avoiding” a considerable number of births in recent decades. These births were avoided not only thanks to family planning but it is also the result of the combination of several factors inherent in the economic and social development of the country. Nevertheless, the share of the FP remains decisive since its contribution to births averted is on average 44% (between 1966 and 1994 for example) (Seklani M., 1997, p.155).
-The new marital life cycle
In addition to the extension of life in a couple (thanks to the fall in mortality), the matrimonial life cycle has been characterized in recent years by an increasingly long period of celibacy and by a delay in the entry into union, unlike the situation a few decades earlier. For example, the proportions of single women at ages 15-19, 20-24 and 25-29 have risen sharply. While in 1956 only 58% of women were single at the age of 15-19, this proportion exceeded 98% in 2010.
Similarly, for the two other age groups, this percentage exceeded 85% and 54% respectively in 2010 compared to 20.4% and 6.5% in 1956. In other words, more than half of women (54.4 %) was single at age 25-29 in 2010, while this rate did not exceed 6.5% in 1956 and 9% in 1966.
Thus, early marriage has virtually disappeared alongside the extension of celibacy; and the proportion of women married before the age of 25 went from 93.5% and 91% respectively in 1956 and 1966 to only 16.4% in 2004 and less than 15% in 2010. These women therefore went (after forty years) “from a life cycle essentially devoted to marriage to a new cycle where adulthood begins with a fairly long period of celibacy. They devote it to pursuing studies or are available to enter the labor market” (Ben Salem L. and Locoh T., 2001, p.155).
This new marriage cycle is closely related to the age at first marriage, which has fallen significantly, which has had an impact on the level of fertility.
-The increase in age at first marriage and fertility
The evolution of the age at first marriage reflects a spectacular increase in this age over the last decades, and this more intensely for women than for men. Between 1956 and 2010, the age of union entry was raised by 7 years for men compared to 10 years for women. There are many reasons for this decline in age at first marriage. They are linked first of all to legislative measures and legal texts resulting from the Personal Status Code and which have limited the minimum legal age for marriage. “But the law only really produced this effect because its application was supported by a general evolution of mores, encouraged by a policy favorable to the improvement of the status of women. And this is the reason why this evolution was able to continue beyond what was required by strict application of the law” (Waltisperger D. and al., 2001, p. 80).
The importance of these causes and the extent of this behavioral and mental change – in particular thanks to the emancipation of women – can explain the significant attenuation of the differences in age at marriage according to environment, region and level.
Firstly, the gaps between urban and rural areas have faded, while inter-regional disparities have narrowed relatively thanks to the significant rise in the age at first union in certain regions formerly characterized by the early marriage of girls. .
Secondly, these differences according to the level of education have also been attenuated, in particular following the increase in the age at marriage of illiterate women and that of women with a low level of education, unlike that of educated women (secondary and higher level) which has stabilized in the 27-30 age range over the past three decades.
Thirdly, the age gap between the two spouses at marriage has decreased significantly (obviously because of the rise in the average age of women at first marriage).
The consequences of this delay in the age of marriage are multiple since they reflect not only a simple quantitative change related to the age of union but they reflect profound changes in the Tunisian family. In addition, these changes are inherent in a qualitative evolution of the family which is undergoing profound changes affecting its very conception thanks to the appearance of new “traditions” or modernist customs.
These social changes and this new modernist behavior are combined with a transformation of the life cycles of Tunisian women and a modification of their functions and roles according to age. Indeed, the delay in the age at first marriage has extended the first life cycle covering the first years of high school, the period of growth and basic education as well as the long duration of secondary and higher education. This first cycle, which hardly exceeded the twenties according to traditional standards, extends until the average age at marriage, now at 28 on average (Seklani M., 1998, p.21).
The impact of this change in the life cycle is closely linked to the reduction in the number of married women aged 17 to 28 and the reduction in the intensity of nuptiality. Thus, the delay in the age at marriage has had a direct effect on this nuptiality, which is no longer precocious and intense as in 1966. Otherwise, the numbers of these young people would have been much greater, and instead of find in 1994: 261,580 married women, we could have found 576,833 young brides, i.e. 315,000 unmarried women following the extension of celibacy from 17 to 27 years, which obviously contributed significantly to the reduction in the birth rate (Seklani M., 2001, p.31).
On the other hand, this delay in union entry generates a delay in fertility and often a drop in the birth rate: it is obvious that “in societies where fertility outside marriage is almost inconceivable […], later a woman marries, the shorter will be her fertile life and the fewer will be her descendants” (Waltisperger D and al., 2001, p. 80).
In addition, and according to the aforementioned study based on the Bongaarts model (carried out by M. Ayed and H. Jemai), between the ETF of 1978 and the ETSME of 1995, the increase in age at Marriage played a key role in the decline in fertility, given that “the reduction in time spent in marriage alone would have led to a 31% decline in overall fertility” (Ayed M. and Jemai H., 2001, p. 175).
II.3. Indirect determinants of fertility decline
The indirect determinants of the decline in fertility mainly concern female education and women’s access to the labor market.
Firstly, notable progress has been made in female education, which directly affects the status of women in the family and in society and which is a key determinant of their emancipation. Several indicators are very eloquent on this subject. Indeed, the female illiteracy rate fell from 96% in 1956 to 25% in 2014 (this rate did not exceed, in 2008, 1.6% and 3% respectively for the two age groups 10-14 years and 15 -19 years old). This improvement in the education of women seems to have a negative impact on the level of fertility and it can be considered as an indirect determinant of the drop in the birth rate in Tunisia. Like the other determinants of fertility, population growth is closely linked to female education. If the latter has a significant impact on the delay in the age at marriage and on the level of contraception, it also modifies female behavior with regard to procreation.
Secondly, the development of female activity and the upward trend in the proportion of women in the active population throughout recent years has largely influenced the behavior of couples with regard to their offspring.
Among the characteristics of the evolution of the labor market in Tunisia in recent years, the massive access of women to the labor market is the most striking fact. Several indicators allow us to analyze the development of labor demand from women. Indeed, the rate of feminization (or the percentage of the female labor force compared to the total labor force) increased from 6.1% in 1966 to 31.3% in 2014. Moreover, the overall rate of activity of women (defined as the ratio of the active population to the population of working age) reached 28.5% in 2014 while it did not exceed 5.6% in 1966.
Often, the status of the employed woman and her new role in society leads to a drop in fertility and makes women aware of the problem of family planning and the use of contraceptive practices.
III. The repercussions and the effects of the decline in fertility in Tunisia
III.1. The demographic and economic effects
Since the changes affecting the demographic, economic and social variables are explained by the decline in fertility, the measurement of the differences is important, that is to say the differences between the real or observed current state and the “hypothetical” state. in the case of constant fertility (or the state that would have had in the absence of this decline in fertility), this can clarify the effects of the reduction in population growth.
With a constant natural growth rate (around 3% annually), the Tunisian population would have been 25,225,000 in 2014 instead of the 10,982,000 that it actually has. The gap of 3,115 thousand in 1994, i.e. almost 35%, would have been 14,243 thousand in 2014, i.e. more than 129%.
Averted births exceeded 4 million while observed births did not reach 161 thousand (against 640 thousand in the potential case). The structural demographic effects are no less remarkable since the Tunisian population has “lost” 68% and 48% of its children aged 0-5 years and 5-14 years respectively, while the populations of working age and third age continue to increase rapidly.
Table 3. Comparative evolution of the Tunisian population at constant fertility in 1966 and the census population (1967-2014)
|Year||Population (constant fertility)||Census population||The difference|
Source : 1967-1994 : M.Seklani : « Impact du programme de PF sur le secteur démographique » ;
1997-2014: Elaborated by our calculations, based on INS data
-The impact of the decline in fertility on the employment sector
The effects of the dramatic decline in fertility can be captured by measuring the differences between the observed state and the hypothetical state in the event of constant fertility. If the repercussions of the family planning program on the social sectors can be measured directly after its introduction (in 1966), its impact on employment can only be grasped after the new generations have reached working age (15 years and more) i.e. from 1980. Assuming the same evolution of the crude activity rates observed, we can calculate the population that should have been active during the period 1980-2014 if the population had kept fertility constant at the level observed in 1966.
Thus, the active population which recorded, between 1980 and 2014, an increase of 121% should have increased by more than 358%, with an average annual growth rate of 4.57% (against an actual rate of 2.35% ). Subsequently, the additional demands should have been much higher and the pressure on the labor market greater, since the average annual additional demand for employment could have been 211,000 jobs instead of the 64,000 demands recorded between 1980 and 2014.
Assuming the same evolution of the occupation rates observed and constant fertility at the 1966 level, it is possible to calculate the population which should have been occupied between 1980 and 2014. The occupied population which was almost 1553 thousand in 1979 increased to 3392.5 thousand occupied in 2014, thus registering an increase of 118% in 35 years.
According to the assumption of constant fertility, this increase should have been 340% to reach more than 7.79 million employed in 2014, with an average annual growth rate of 4.45% whereas the observed rate is 2. 2%. Of course, job creation efforts should have been higher to satisfy the surplus of the employed population estimated at almost 11% from 1980 and nearly 130% in 2014.
In terms of net annual job creation, to occupy a population that could have increased at such a high rate, one of the following two situations could be found.
First, to occupy the population recorded in 2014, the Tunisian economy had to create since 1981 more than 1,795,000 additional jobs. However, supposing to keep the constant fertility of 1966 and the same employment rates, the jobs to be created should have been tripled to exceed 6022 thousand, that is to say by recording a surplus due to the constant fertility of almost 4227 thousand more jobs.
However, the assumption of such a level of employment (equal to three times the number of jobs actually created) remains an almost impossible operation, all the more so since the objective of all the Development Plans since 1972 is not no longer full employment but only the satisfaction of additional demands, because of the stock of unemployed which has gradually increased over the years (going from 166,000 in 1966 to 433,000 in 2004, to 522,000 in 2008 and to 705 thousand in 2011).
Secondly, the other alternative could be to limit oneself to job creations observed between 1980 and 2010 and thus agree to reduce the employment rate, which would fall from 26.4% in 1981 to 19.5% in 1994, 18.3% in 1999, 16.4% in 2004, 15.1% in 2010 and only 13.4% in 2014; such a situation would obviously have significantly increased the structural unemployment rate because of the imbalance between the rapid increase in additional demands and the low employment rates.
Table 4. Evolution of the average annual additional demand according to the observed population and the assumption of constant fertility between 1980-2014 (in thousands)
|Year||Active population||Average demand||Active population (constant fertility)||Average annual demand (constant fertility)|
Source : 1980-1994 : A.Jaoua : « Impact du planning familial sur l’emploi » ;
1997-2014: Elaborated by our calculations, based on INS data
III.2. The structural demographic effects of the transition
-The evolution of the age structure
The demographic transition experienced by Tunisia (thanks to the rapid decline in fertility) explains the continuous decline in the proportion of children aged under 5, since this age group represents only 8% of the total population in 2014 against 18.6% in 1966 (which corresponds to a decrease of more than 10 points). Similarly, the proportion of the 5-14 age group continues to decline and did not reach 15% in 2014, whereas it exceeded 27.9% in 1966. This development will thus affect the number of children aged under the age of 15, whose proportion experienced the most spectacular drop, dropping from 46.5% to 23.8% during this period (and this drop will further increase to 18% in 2041).
On the other hand, the proportion of the population of working age and especially the proportion of people aged 60 and over have increased considerably, to the detriment of children aged under 15, as shown in the following table:
Table 5. Evolution of the age structure between 1966 and 2014 (in %)
|Year||0-14 years||15-59 years||60 years and over|
The table shows the importance of the aging of the Tunisian population. Indeed, the percentage of the “elderly population” (60 years and over) is experiencing very significant growth, and the numbers have increased from 253.3 thousand in 1966 to 1285 thousand people in 2014, which corresponds to a colossal increase of more than 400%. The proportion has increased over the past five decades from 5.5% to nearly 12%.
In addition, the population of working age has experienced a dizzying increase from 2174.6 thousand in 1966 to 7084 thousand people in 2014, registering a considerable average annual growth during this period. Of course, this increase had repercussions on its proportion in the total population (which rose during this period from 48% to 64.5%) and consequently on additional job applications, which created significant pressure in the labor market.
Despite this pressure, this transformation of the age pyramid remains “very favorable to economic development since it is accompanied by an exceptional rise in the share of adults of working age. This kind of golden age for development will last another two or three decades, but then will come “the swing of the pendulum” (because of the ageing of the population)” (Bchir M. and Vallin J., 2001, p. 264).
In summary, the Tunisian population is experiencing a gradual reduction of young people under the age of 20 in favor of the working-age population and people aged 60 and over. In this respect, two demographic indices can reflect the evolution of the profile of this age structure, namely the average age and the median age.
Table 6. Evolution of the average age and the median age between 1966 and 2014
|Year||Average age||Median age|
Source : NIS
While in 1956, 50% of the population was under 16.8 years old, this median age exceeded in 2014: 31 years old. This evolution – one of the consequences of the transformation of the age pyramid – places Tunisia in the “intermediate countries” which no longer have a very young population, but also which do not belong to all the countries where ageing is very advanced and where the median age was already 33.7 years in 1990. It should be noted, on the other hand, with the current evolution of the “Tunisian demographic structure”, that the country is gradually approaching this category of country where the median age is almost 34 years.
On the other hand, the demographic projections (2021-2041) show the inevitable ageing of the Tunisian population and the radical transformation of the population structure, as shown in the following table:
Table 7. The outlook for the structure of the population between 2021 and 2041
|Year||0-14 years||15-59 years||60 years and over|
Source : NIS
These perspectives of the structure of the Tunisian population allow us to make the following remarks:
– for the population aged 0-14, and whatever the forecast scenario, the proportion of under-15s will increase until 2021 and then begin to fall thereafter, it goes, for the average hypothesis, from 23 .8% in 2014 to 25.3% in 2026, to 20.3% in 2036 and reaches 18.6% in 2041
– the proportion of people aged 15-59 will drop significantly to around 58% in 2026 (regardless of the scenario). It would reach 59.5% in 2036 and 58.8% in 2041 for the medium assumption
– for the population aged 60 and over: the projection highlighted in particular the inevitable movement towards significant ageing of the population. Whatever the scenario of the forecast, the proportion of over 60 years goes from 11.7% in 2014 to 16% in 2026, it will be around 20% in 2036 to reach 22.6% for the average hypothesis and 23 % for the low hypothesis in 2041 (Institut National de la Statistique, 2015, pp.13-14).
Population ageing is thus the fundamental structural consequence of the demographic transition, since it is, on the one hand, an inevitable effect of the decline in the birth rate, and on the other hand a phenomenon which could be accentuated in the future.
From 1999, the demographic structure recorded (for the first time since independence) a balance between the percentage of elderly people and that of children aged under 5 (9%). In 2010, the proportion of elderly people exceeded that of children, with a percentage that exceeded the level of 10% in recent years (precisely from 2011), for the first time since 1956.
According to the official population projection (2014-2044) produced by the NIS, this trend should increase in the future. In fact, the age structure will be marked by the increase in the elderly population (aged 60 and over), which should see its weight double between 1995 and 2044. According to the hypothesis of a moderate decline in fertility, this proportion would reach 22% in 2041 (against 5.5% in 1966 and 8% in 1994).
The inevitable ageing of the Tunisian population could be materialized by the size of the workforce in the age group 60 and over, which could exceed the threshold of 3 million people in 2041 (253.3 thousand in 1966), while the proportions of children (0-14 years) could experience an irreversible decline (falling from 46% in 1966 to 18% in 2041).
The evolution of the profile of the pyramid by age and sex shows the extent of these structural changes following the decline in population growth. In this respect, one could move from an age pyramid of a young population characterized by a very broad base which narrows as it advances in age, to a pyramid of an old population with a top as wide as base.
- Perception and representations of demographic problems in Tunisia: results of an inquiry
IV.1-Presentation of the inquiry
IV.1- The objectives of the inquiry
The fundamental objective of the survey is to analyze the perceptions of the population (especially young graduates) on various aspects relating to the population/development issue in Tunisia. To do this, our study and our questionnaire were based on two main themes: population and human development.
Among the main interests of the first theme, we can cite in particular the perception of young people in terms of population, birth rate, nuptiality, demographic growth and their vision of ageing and migration (internal and international).
As for the second theme relating to human development, the aim is above all to analyze the perception of the population concerning the standard of living and the material and financial resources available, and to study the perception of young people on the unemployment crisis, its importance and its main causes.
In this article, we will focus our interest on the first theme and on the perception of demographic problems by young graduates.
IV.1- The population interviewed and the drawing up of the sample:
The sampling was carried out using the quota method, according to which the sample must have the same composition as the total population according to certain well-defined criteria. For our part, we have chosen the level of education and age to collect the opinion and perception of development by a proportion of the reference population which represents young people with a higher level of education (the population with higher level, according to the 2011 population employment survey (for example), is equal to 1070 thousand people; our sampling rate being 1/2000, our sample is therefore equal to 535 individuals). The characteristics of our sample are given by the following table:
Table 8: Distribution of the sample according to age and sex
|40 years and over||29||5,4|
Source: Personal inquiry
On the other hand, we included the 30-39 age group in our study for many reasons, in particular the late age at marriage (over 35 for men and over 30 for women), the delay in financial autonomy, the lengthening of the duration of studies, the delay in the age of the first child, the occupation of a stable job at a relatively high age (CREDOC , 2012).
It should be noted, in this regard, the concentration of the higher level (university level of education) in the age group 20-39 years (more than 820.8 thousand, i.e. almost 77% of the entire population with a higher level, including 188 thousand in the 30-34 age group and 108 thousand in the 35-39 age group).
IV.2- The perception of demographic problems
IV.2.1- Number and growth of the population: While most respondents have a relatively satisfactory idea of demographic trends in general, there is a certain “fluttering” in knowledge of the exact size of the current Tunisian population.
The Tunisian population reached 10.7 million in 2012 and 11.06 million in 2014, and only 16% of the surveyed population placed it in the 10-11 million interval. On the other hand, nearly 80% of respondents have an estimate higher than the reality, since 35% place the population in the interval 11-12 million and more than 40% estimate that this number is greater than or equal to 12 million individuals (of course during the year 2014).
Table 9: The current size of the Tunisian population
|Question: According to you, how many inhabitants does Tunisia currently have?|
|Less than 10 million||88||16.4|
|Over 12 million||17||3.2|
|I do not know||5||0.9|
Source: Personal inquiry
Contrary to these “tergiversions” concerning the size of the Tunisian population, almost all of the respondents show great certainty about the increase in the population since independence, with a proportion of more than 92% (only 4% believe that the population has decreased and 3% believe that it has remained stationary).
Table 10: Evolution of the Tunisian population
|Question: Since independence, do you think that the Tunisian population|
|Has remained stationary||20||3.7|
Source: Personal inquiry
Regarding the future, the general idea is that the Tunisian population will increase in the next decade (and this for more than 50% of the interviewees). The explanations for this increase are multiple and they relate in particular to the improvement in life expectancy, the improvement of living conditions, the development of medicine and the health sector, the birth rate higher than the death rate…
However, this opinion is not unanimous since almost a quarter think that the Tunisian population will experience a reduction in its numbers (due to the low birth and fertility rates, the increase in the rate of celibacy, the availability of means contraception, the increase in the age at marriage, etc.), while the remaining quarter believe that the population will remain stationary (for many reasons, including the low rate of quasi-stable population growth, the effectiveness of family planning, the drop in nuptiality, the balance between the birth rate and the death rate, the emancipation of Tunisian women and the availability of means of contraception, etc.).
Table 11: The attitude towards the future movement of the Tunisian population
|Question: Do you estimate that, in 10 years, the Tunisian population?|
|will remain stationary||135||25.2|
Source: Personal inquiry
On the other hand, the trends of the population surveyed with regard to demographic growth show a certain preference for the stabilization of the population: this trend favorable to the stationary state is expressed by more than 56% of the people surveyed and it is explained by many economic and social factors:
– keep the same standard of living
– achieve economic and social balance
-the limited resources (and wealth) of the country (and of the Tunisian family)
-weak economic growth
– to be able to meet the economic and social needs of the population
-to have a balance between economic growth and population growth
– the size of the population must be proportional to wealth
– be able to distribute resources in an equitable manner
-the existence of several problems (unemployment, poverty, housing, etc.) which may be accentuated with the increase in the population
-incomes are not high enough to be able to meet the needs of high population growth (or to be able to satisfy the entire population)
-“The Tunisian consumes and does not produce, so the rapid increase in population can have negative repercussions”
– we must think about sustainable development (the needs of future generations).
In addition to this preference for the stationary state, we find a relatively average proportion (23%) of “supporters” of population increase, who explain this attitude by many causes:
– reduce the effects of ageing
– have a young population
– renewal of generations
-keep a growing workforce
-have new generations with innovation capabilities
-to increase production
-strengthen human capital and human resources
-religion (and the “religious obligation” of the multiplication of the population, according to some respondents).
On the other hand, 20% of those interviewed want the Tunisian population to decrease, because of the country’s limited resources and to have less unemployment and less poverty (Bousnina A., (2019) . According to the terms of some respondents, the population should decrease because of the “lack of civility” and since “nothing has changed in the mentality of Tunisians”. Moreover, “Tunisia’s resources are not already sufficient to eleven million”.
Table 12: The attitude towards the movement of the Tunisian population
|Question : In your opinion, is it desirable that the Tunisian population|
Source: Personal inquiry
IV.2.2- Birth rate and fertility
– The natality
The population surveyed was interrogated on certain questions relating to the birth rate. We started with the average number of children that a Tunisian family currently has. Nearly two-thirds of respondents have an average estimate close to reality (between 2 and 3 children). The remaining third have an overestimated vision of the average number since they advance the figure of four children (and more), which is clearly higher than the SFI in 2017 (2.2 children/woman).
Table 13: The average number of children in the Tunisian family
|Question: In your opinion, how many, on average, does a Tunisian family have living children today?|
|Between 1 and 2||03||0.5|
|Between 2 and 3||351||65.6|
|4 and more||181||33.8|
Source: Personal inquiry
In the same context, the study of attitudes relating to the ideal number of children in a family confirms the “Malthusian tendency” mentioned above, given that the desired average number is often between 2 and 3 (more than 49% for 2 children and 35% for the 3 children), i.e. a proportion which exceeds 85% for this interval (the ideal number of 4 children and more has only nearly 11% of the preferences).
Compared to the survey carried out in 1974 (by A.Bouraoui and S.Sahli), we note a profound change in the attitudes of the population, since the (desired) interval of 4-5 children grouped together 49% of the preferences of the respondents , which reflects the awareness of the younger generations to population problems and especially their preference for the “nuclear family”.
While the explanations for the decline in the birth rate and fertility are diverse (legal, socio-demographic, socio-economic, political, etc.), the transformation of the population’s perception is determined essentially by the cultural dimension: “The consumer society is pushing necessarily to the valuation of the nuclear family […]. As children have a lower economic value, they tend to be valued more sentimentally. The Tunisian child is not designed primarily for its economic dimension but for the socio-cultural one. Children are not valued more emotionally today: they always have been; they were probably more so insofar as the family ties were better woven” (Bchir M., 1984, pp. 81-83).
Table 14: The ideal number of children in a family
|Question: According to you, what is the ideal number of children in a family?|
|06 and more||01||0.2|
Source: Personal inquiry
Moreover, a large part of the population surveyed (more precisely 65%) considers that the average number of children in Tunisia is relatively average (being between 2 and 3 children) and only 14% think that it is too high (against 20% who find it low).
It is for this reason that almost half of those interviewed prefer a stabilization of births, or even a reduction in them. These two choices account for more than 82% of respondents’ responses, which shows the importance attached to demographic problems by almost the entire population, in particular because of the cost and the burdens to be borne to cope with a high birth rate and a growing population.
The explanations for this trend, favorable to the reduction or stabilization of births, are almost similar to the attitude relating to population growth, and they are often of a socio-economic nature, in particular limited resources, the cost of life, the need for a balance between the number of births and family income, the health of the mother…
Table 15: Attitude towards births
|Question: Is it desirable to increase or decrease births?|
Source: Personal inquiry
The study of the attitudes of the population with regard to demographic growth and the birth rate shows a deep change and a radical transformation of the perception of the problems of the population by public opinion. It is the same for the perception of fertility and procreation, since we notice awareness, more and more important, of the need to postpone pregnancies and of the inter-birth interval, for example. In this regard, the results of the survey show that the desirable interval between two consecutive births is 2-3 years for 77.4% of respondents and 4 years (and more) for nearly 16% of those questioned (against only 3% who opted for the 1-2 year interval), i.e. an interval greater than 2 years for more than 93% of the people interviewed.
Thus, and as confirmed by A.Bouraoui and S.Sahli (since 1974), we are in the presence of a population aware of the need to postpone pregnancies and we are far from the interval observed in traditional society; the absence of the mother from the home due to work, the desire of women to “preserve” themselves, the difficulties of life, are all explanations to be offered in favor of the postponement of conceptions (Bouraoui A. and Sahli S., 1974, p. 76).
Table 16: The desirable interval between births
|Question: In your opinion, what is the desirable interval between two consecutive births?|
|Between 1 and 2 years||17||3.2|
|Between 2 and 3 years||414||77.4|
|4 years and over||85||15.9|
|I do not know||19||3.5|
Source: Personal inquiry
If the results of our survey and those of 1974 are convergent for the inter-birth interval, notable differences must be underlined concerning the age of the last conception. If, in 1974, 49% of the total surveyed wanted to set the last maternity at 35 years, this proportion is lower, in 2014, at 6%. Similarly, only 13% of the surveys were in favor of a last conception after the age of 40, while more than 51% of the population surveyed does not currently oppose conception beyond the age of 40 (including more than 45% who chose the 40-45 year interval).
Table 17: Age of last contraception
|Question: At what age do you think a woman should stop conceiving?|
|Between 35 and 39 years old||174||32.5|
|Between 40 and 45 years old||242||45.2|
|46 and over||35||6.5|
|I do not know||53||9.9|
Source: Personal inquiry
It should be noted, in this regard, the importance of the role played by contraception. Indeed, the intensification of Family Planning activities has generated a sharp increase in its services and a rapid spread of contraception. The contraceptive prevalence rate (defined as the proportion of women among the women (of reproductive age) who use a contraceptive method) exceeded 63% in 2012, whereas it was only 9% in 1966 and 31% in 1978.
This increase (estimated at more than 85% between 1966 and 2012) in contraceptive prevalence rates and the increasingly important adoption of contraception are due in particular to the rapid progress in the distribution of contraceptive methods in the rural regions. During a fairly short period of time (less than 20 years), this rate rose by more than 35 points, going from 30% in 1978 to 65% in 1997.
Therefore, it is important to emphasize that the disparities between the different regions, in terms of contraceptive prevalence, are fading. According to the 1995 inquiry for example, the lowest percentage of women using contraception exists in the Center West (45.8%) while the highest rate is recorded in Greater Tunis (69.8%), i.e. a difference of 24% whereas this difference was evaluated in 1978 at 33% (this rate was respectively 43.2% and 10.3%). The same is true for the variation in the prevalence rate according to the level of education, given that the use of contraceptive methods among illiterate women is increasingly considerable (27% in 1978 against 52.6% in 1995), which explains the narrowing of the gap between this segment of the population and women at secondary or higher level, which fell from 29.1% to 14.7% between the two surveys.
According to data from the PAPFAM survey (published in 2006 by the NFPO, National Familiy and Population Office), inter-regional disparities are also low, since the regions with the lowest prevalence often have a rate above 50% (52% in the Center East and 53 % in the South East), while the national average is 62%. The level of education is also no longer a variable of “discrimination” since the difference between the prevalence of illiterates and that of women at secondary level is only 6 points in 2001 after having been 15 points in 1994 and 33 points in 1983.
On the other hand, the delay in the age of last conception is closely linked to the delay in the age at marriage. This is what we will discuss in the next paragraph.
The evolution of the age at first marriage reflects a spectacular increase in this age over the last decades, and this more intensely for women than for men. Between 1956 and 2010, the age of union entry was delayed by 8 years for men compared to almost 11 years for women. The proportion of women married before the age of 25 fell from 93.5% and 91% respectively in 1956 and 1966 to only 16.4% in 2004 and less than 15% in 2010.
The perception and representations of the population surveyed confirm this profound transformation of nuptiality in Tunisia. If, in 1974, a majority of 72% emerges in favor of the marriage of the girl between 20 and 25 years and more than a quarter is for a female marriage age of less than 20 years (i.e., in total, 99% of respondents who are in favor of women marrying before the age of 25), this proportion does not exceed 34% in 2014, since nearly 66% of respondents are in favor of late female marriage, which is expressed by an age at marriage greater than 25 years (for early marriage, before age 20, the proportion fell from 27% to 6% between 1974 and 2014).
This delay in age at marriage (especially for women) not only reflects a simple quantitative change related to the age of union, but also reflects profound changes in the Tunisian family. Among the main determinants of this change, we can mention “the rise in the level of education of the population and in particular of women […], the models disseminated by schools and the mass media, geographical mobility, the transformations of the world of work and the roles that women are increasingly able to play in this field […], the political will that has made it possible to disseminate the models of change” (Ben Salem L. and Locoh T., 2001, p. 166). As such, these changes are inherent in a qualitative evolution of the family which is undergoing profound changes affecting its very conception thanks to the appearance of new “traditions” or modernist customs such as the free choice of spouse, the domination of the nuclear and neo-local type of family (or life as a couple and in an autonomous conjugal unit), more egalitarian education between boys and girls and above all the delay in the age at entry into a union (Ibid, p.167).
On the other hand, the analysis of the data relating to the age at marriage of the man shows the tendency in favor of late nuptiality, which was also a relatively important attitude during the 1974 survey, but with different proportions. In 1974, 46% of respondents were for a union after the age of 25 and 51% chose the 20-25 age group. Currently, only 4% are for a marriage before the age of 25, 32% before the age of 30 and 62% for a late male nuptiality (after 30).
Table 18-Preferred age of marriage (Women)
|Question: In your opinion, at what age should a girl get married?|
|Between 20 and 24 years old||145||27.1|
|Between 25 and 29 years old||336||62.8|
|30 years and over||19||3.6|
Source: Personal inquiry
Table 19-Preferred age of marriage (Men)
|Question: In your opinion, at what age should a boy get married?|
|Between 20 and 24 years old||22||4.1|
|Between 25 and 29 years old||175||32.7|
|Between 30 and 34 years old||295||55.1|
|35 and over||39||7.3|
Source: Personal inquiry
For the level of information concerning nuptiality, we wanted to ask young people about the average age of marriage, for both girls and boys. This age, let us recall, is currently nearly 34 for men and nearly 30 for women. For both sexes, we note an overestimation of this age, since nearly 40% of respondents give an average age of over 35 years for men and 35% give an average age of over 30 years for women.
Table 20- Average age at marriage (Men)
|Question: According to you, what is the average age of marriage for men currently in Tunisia?|
|25-29 years old||51||9.5|
|30-34 years old||261||48.8|
|35-39 years old||212||39.6|
|40 and over||11||2.1|
Source: Personal inquiry
Table 21-Average age at marriage (women)
|Question: In your opinion, what is the average age of marriage for women currently in Tunisia?|
|20-24 years old||68||12.7|
|25-29 years old||275||51.4|
|30-34 years old||178||33.3|
|35-39 years old||11||2.1|
Source: Personal inquiry
Moreover, the explanations for celibacy and “the late age” at marriage differ markedly according to the perception of the different respondents. We sometimes find common explanations (which affect both men and women) and which relate in particular to the following factors:
– economic and financial reasons
-studies and extended schooling
-poverty, unemployment and job search duration
-the increase in prices, in the cost of marriage, housing problems
-the profound change in customs and mores
-difficulty finding a partner
-the freedom to live as a single person, the modernist way of life
-lack of trust between partners
– the existence of sexual relations (without marriage)
– the fact of being more and more demanding
-the involvement of families in the marriage process (the families have their say and enter into the choices and decisions…)
-the criteria imposed by society and which must be fulfilled by the future bride and the future husband
-sometimes relationship disappointments.
As for the explanations that particularly affect women, they mainly concern:
– female emancipation
– improving the level of education
-the financial autonomy of women
-the problems relating to men (and sometimes the “disinterestedness of men”)…
The decline in fertility in Tunisia during the last decades has been explained by certain socio-economic and cultural variables inherent in development (especially population policy, contraception and nuptiality). In addition, this decline had undeniable repercussions on the socio-economic sectors: it generated a “slowdown” in the pressure on the labor market (by reducing the average annual demand for employment) and it contributed to control the demographic growth and the evolution of the number of the population in Tunisia.
On the other hand, the main conclusions that can be drawn from the analysis of the perception of young Tunisian graduates (with regard to demographic problems) can be summarized as follows:
-the importance of the “malthusian” attitude, since a large proportion of respondents show a clear preference for stabilizing the population (and even, in some cases, a certain preference for reducing the number of workers). This trend is confirmed by attitudes relating to the birth rate and fertility
-the study of attitudes relating to the ideal number of children in a family confirms the “malthusian tendency” mentioned above, given that the desired average number is often between 2 and 3 (more than 49% for 2 children and 35% for the 3 children), i.e. a proportion which exceeds 85% for this interval (the ideal number of 4 children and more has only nearly 11% of the preferences). This reflects the awareness of the younger generations to population problems and especially their preference for the “nuclear family”.
-for nuptiality, the perception and representations of the surveyed population confirm the profound transformation of nuptiality in Tunisia (nearly 66% of respondents are for late female nuptiality which is expressed by an age at marriage greater than 25 years).
Several recommendations can prove to be very important in this regard (Attia H., 2006, pp.471-473):
-intergenerational solidarity (knowing how this solidarity works and how important it is, evaluating its effects on family life and its effects at the macro-economic level)
-conjugal life (strengthen the health of conjugal life, the weakening of which would be extremely costly at the national, family and individual level, in particular for children)
-the elderly (develop a strategy that takes into account the experiences in this field of countries already facing this problem, taking into account our cultural specificity regarding intergenerational solidarity)
-celibacy and fertility (consider the development of a specific strategy and programs to defuse obstacles to marriage for young couples and encourage earlier marriages, which helps to slow down the acceleration of the fall in fertility).
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 According to the United Nations classification, Tunisia is part of the intermediate set where fertility began to decline between 1950 and 1990, while the other two groups concern countries where fertility had not yet begun to decline in 1990, and countries where fertility began to decline before 1950; Cf. M. Bchir et J. Vallin, 2001, pp. 273-274.
 This population concerns individuals with a higher level of education, ie. young people who have passed their baccalaureate and who have completed at least one year of higher education (this concerns the largest part of our sample, i.e. more than 94%, which we have supplemented by thirty respondents who have not the characteristics required – age and level of education – to have the exact number of our sample).