Discussion paper

DP16538 The Middle-Eastern Marriage Pattern? Malthusian Dynamics in Nineteenth-Century Egypt

Malthus predicted that fertility rises with income and that people regulate fertility via regulating marriage. However, evidence on the Malthusian equilibrium has been mostly confined to Europe and East Asia. We employ Egypt's population censuses in 1848 and 1868 to provide the first evidence on the pre-industrial Malthusian dynamics in the Middle East and North Africa. At the aggregate level, we document rural Egyptian women having a high fertility rate that is close to the Western European level, combined with low age at marriage and low celibacy rate, that are closer to the East Asian levels. This resulted in a uniquely high fertility regime that contributed to the region’s lower wages. Next, we provide individual-level evidence on the positive correlation between fertility and income (occupation). We find that the higher fertility of rural Egyptian white-collar men is attributed to the extensive margin of fertility, and not to marital fertility differentials. Specifically, white-collar men's higher polygyny rate explains 70% of their fertility advantage, whereas their higher marriage rate and lower wife's age at marriage explain 30%, suggesting that polygyny led to a steeper income-fertility curve than in Western Europe, by enabling the Egyptian rural bourgeoisie to out-breed the poor.


Saleh, M and Y Kumon (2021), ‘DP16538 The Middle-Eastern Marriage Pattern? Malthusian Dynamics in Nineteenth-Century Egypt‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 16538. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp16538