Demographics of Africa & the Middle East

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  • 0:00 How Many People?
  • 1:00 Life Expectancy and Education
  • 2:30 Income and Development
  • 4:20 Religion and Language
  • 6:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Despite being very different places, there is a great deal of similarity in demographics between the Middle East and Africa. This lesson takes a look at those similarities, especially those that are at the root of current disagreements.

How Many People?

From the perspective of demographics, few regions have as much diversity as the Middle East and Africa. First, these are truly populous regions. The Middle East has almost 300 million people, making it only slightly smaller than the United States in population. Meanwhile, Africa has more than a billion! However, within that nearly 1.4 billion people, there is an incredible amount of diversity of life, not only in measurable attributes such as life expectancy, education, and economics, but also in language, culture, and religious beliefs.

However, before we go on any further, I think it would be beneficial to define the regions that we are discussing. Africa is pretty obvious, although we are including the countries of North Africa, which culturally are quite close to the Middle East. As for the Middle East, we are only discussing those countries that have majority Arabic-speaking populations, as well as Israel, Iran, and Turkey. While some may regard countries like Pakistan or Kazakhstan as part of the Middle East, we are focused solely on the core of that region.

Life Expectancy and Education

If you were to compare the life expectancies of the countries of Africa and the Middle East, you'd immediately notice a number of big differences. By far, the highest life expectancies are found in the Middle East, namely in Turkey and the countries on the Persian Gulf. With the exception of Yemen, every country in the region has a life expectancy of over 70!

However, if you look to Africa, you see a very different story. Outside of North Africa, where life expectancies are between 65 and 75, you are hard-pressed to find countries where the average person can expect to live to age 60! The reasons for this are largely due to HIV/AIDS, a disease which is particularly devastating in Africa, as well as continued conflict. Conflict in Somalia, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo has limited life expectancies to around 50.

A similar disconnect happens when discussing education, especially as measured by the literacy rate, or the percentage of people who can read and write. Again, with the exception of Yemen, every country in the Middle East has a literacy rate above 80%. The United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Qatar are above 90%, while Israel has above 97%! Meanwhile, in Africa, several countries have rates under 35%. In the southern tip of the continent, literacy rates top 80%, as well as in Cameroon and Gabon. Most interesting, however, is that literacy rates in Botswana rival those found anywhere in the Middle East.

Income and Development

Despite differences in life expectancy and literacy, Africa and the Middle East show a great deal of similarity when it comes to sources of income and development. With only a few exceptions in each region (namely South Africa, Israel, and Turkey), the richest countries have gotten that way almost exclusively off of mineral production. For the Middle East, this means oil and natural gas. In fact, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait alone make up around 50% of the world's known oil reserves, with the United Arab Emirates also holding a substantial percentage. In Africa, on the other hand, oil dominates in Libya and Nigeria, but the story of African mineral wealth is gold and diamonds.

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