The population in the Arab countries has been increasing over the past decades. The Arab region is currently home to 436.4 million inhabitants, growing from 222.7 million in 1990. Today, the Arab population represents 5.6 percent of the world population with 80 percent of the region’s population being concentrated in eight countries: Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Syria. The population in the Arab Region is relatively young, with adolescents and youth aged 10 to 24 years representing a quarter of the total population.[1]


The increase in population in the past three decades is mainly due to the rapid decline in the mortality rates, improved life expectancy and the less-rapid decline in the fertility rates in the Arab region. In the last three decades, infant mortality rate declined from 58 per 1000 live births to 26.1 per live births between 1990 and 2019, life expectancy at birth increased from 64.4 years to 71.8 years, and fertility rates decreased from 5.2 to 3.2 births per woman between 1990 and 2018.[2]


Nonetheless, the demographic profiles of the Arab countries vary widely. Many countries in the region lag behind in terms of life expectancy and high mortality and fertility rates. For example, while the fertility rate is less than 2 births per woman in Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, it exceeds 4 births per woman in Comoros, Mauritania, Sudan, and Somalia, and are expected to bridge the gap slowly.[2]


Many Arab countries are experiencing large population movements from rural to urban areas, with more than 59 percent of the Arab population living in urban areas and with urbanization growing at an average rate of 1 percent per year between 2015 and 2020. The population of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is the most rapidly urbanizing in the region, ranging from 84 percent in Saudi Arabia to 100 percent in Kuwait in 2018.[3]


Thanks to the progress in health care, the region’s average maternal mortality rate decreased from 250 per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 149 per 100,000 live births in 2017, compared to a world average of 211 per 100,000 live births in 2017. The regional maternal mortality rate hides high discrepancies between the Arab countries, with maternal mortality ranging from 3 per 100,000 live births in the United Arab Emirates to 829 per 100,000 live births in Somalia according to the latest available data in 2017.[2]


Migration has traditionally been a distinct feature of the Arab region. The poorer countries in the Arab region have witnessed considerable outflows, sometimes illegal to Europe and to richer countries in the region, especially to the member states of the GCC. Arab expatriates, for example, amount to 1.1 million in Kuwait and makeup 13 percent of the total Qatari population in 2020.[4]



In 2019, 55.3 percent of the world refugees originate from the Arab region – including the Palestinian refugees. In addition, 36.1 percent of the world refugees reside in the Arab region.[5] The spread and amplification of Syria’s armed conflict, in particular, have led to a humanitarian crisis with 6.15 million internally displaced persons as of June 2019.[6]


This overview has been drafted by the ADP team based on most available data as of November 2020. 

[1] Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat. 2019. World Population Prospects. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 November 2020].
[2] The World Bank. 2020. World Development Indicators. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 November 2020].
[3] Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat. 2018. World Urbanization Prospects. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 November 2020].
[4] World Population Review. 2019. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 November 2020].
[5] ADP calculations based on data from UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency), 2018.
[6] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 2019. Mid-year trends 2019. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 November 2020].

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