On a hot day in mid-June of this year, Kuwait crossed the four million population threshold without any fireworks or fanfare. The only indication of the change came when the counter on the Public Authority for Civil Information (PACI) website notched one more digit to show four followed by six zeroes. Very few people knew of the event, fewer still remarked on its implications for the country and its future.
The PACI is generally known for being the government body that issues identification cards to citizens and expatriates. What is not so well-known is the role the organization plays in gathering, collating, tabulating and freely disseminating valuable statistical data on the population structure of Kuwait.
Despite the presence and easy availability of this voluminous data, and its potential to produce various statistical models of Kuwait essential for analyzing social and economic outcomes for the country going into the future, it has for the most part been ignored by those who are supposed to know better. Incidentally, some of the other government agencies that are tasked with publishing various statistics on the country utilize population data that could at best be called outdated.
It is even more surprising that many enterprising businesses have not fully appreciated the immense scope for leveraging this high-profile PACI data to their advantage. With reams of unparalleled accurate data, freely available from PACI website, many businesses have not even begun to realize its potential to enhance their understanding of Kuwait, its people, household and markets.
Currently, the PACI remains the only comprehensive and veritable source on nationality, economic and labor force statistics in the country, as well as on other demographic details such as gender and age ratios among the population. Here, The Times Kuwait attempts to point to some salient features gathered from a minuscule portion of available data, and to look at its implications for the country.
In June 2004, the population of Kuwait stood at 4,039,445, of which, Kuwaitis accounted for 31 percent (1,258,254) and non-Kuwaitis 69 percent (2,781,191). Males formed 60 percent (2,436,488) and females 40 percent (1,602,957) of the population. Not surprisingly, nearly three-quarter of the male population (1,818,238) and 60 percent (962,953) of the female population were non-Kuwaitis.
Around 21 percent of the population was found to be below the age of 14, and about 2 percent were above the age of 65. In the 15 to 64 age bracket, 12 percent was in the age group of 15 to 24, while the 25 to 64 age group was divided among Kuwaitis with 13 percent, and non-Kuwaitis accounting for 52 percent.
Also, among the 69 percent non-Kuwaiti population, 38 percent (1,540,961) were Asians, 28 percent (1,129,859) were Arabians, 2 percent (70,530) were Africans and 1 percent were a mix of North Americans, Europeans, Australians and South Americans. Farwaniya was found to be the most populated governorate with 1,077,377 people, followed by Hawally with 890,533, and Ahmadi governorate coming third with a population of 809,353.
On the education side, the 175,184 Kuwaiti high-school graduates were more or less evenly divided among the two genders. However, when it came to graduating from university, there was a marked preponderance of women graduates. Of the 59 percent, or 102,856 Kuwaiti high-school certificate holders, who went on to graduate from university with a degree, 64 percent were females, and only 36 percent or 36,682 were their male colleagues. However, following graduation, very few Kuwaiti women pursued their academic career, with just 1,298, or around 28 percent of the Kuwaiti post-graduates, being female.
Data on the employment scenario in Kuwait highlights several interesting facts, including that just 16 percent of the total workforce of 2,212,341 were Kuwaitis, while the remaining 84 percent were non-Kuwaitis. In the Kuwaiti workforce, 54 percent (345,625) were male and 46 percent were female. On the non-Kuwaiti side, among the 1,866,716 workers, only 23 percent were female, while the remaining 77 percent were males.
The government accounted for 18 percent of the total workforce, while the remaining 82 percent, or 1,816,434 people, were employed in the non-government sector. And, of the 395,907 jobs in the public sector, 72 percent was occupied by Kuwaitis and 28 percent by non-Kuwaitis. Conversely, in the non-government sector, 97 percent of the workers were from non-Kuwaiti population, with Kuwaitis accounting for only 62,565 positions.
The public and private sector employment numbers get even more skewed when viewed against their respective populations. For instance, 82 percent of the Kuwaiti workforce, or 283,060 people, were employed in government sector, with only 18 percent choosing to work in the non-government sector. Against this number, only 6 percent of non-Kuwaiti workforce, or 112,847 people, were employed by the public sector; 94 percent were employed in the non-government sector.
The fact that the population of Kuwait, which was 1,958,794 in 1995, more than doubled in less than two decades, can be construed as good or bad news depending on which side of the population growth debate you stand on. Economists often speak of the enormous benefits that a country can reap from its ‘population dividend’ of having a large pool of young population. On the other hand, many sociologists warn of the dire consequences on a country’s growth and development from a rapidly growing population.
No matter which side of the population debate you stand on, there can be no doubt that Kuwait’s annual population growth rate of 3.7 percent is cause for concern, especially given the size of the country. Kuwait is among the top five nations in the world with the highest annual population growth rate. In the last two decades alone, Kuwait’s has marked a 106 percent growth rate in its population, with the growth rate among Kuwaitis pegged at 78 percent and among non-Kuwaitis at 122 percent.
However, throughout this twenty year period, the infrastructure to service the huge spike in population has not kept pace. The result of this dichotomy in growth rate and development is clearly visible today in, among other things, the increased stress on power and water supply in summer, flooding sewage and drainage systems following rains, congested main roads during peak traffic hours, the long-queues and waiting times at hospitals and clinics, overcrowded schools, and an airport that defies explanation for a wealthy nation such as Kuwait.
Kuwait’s population density of 227 persons per square km may not appear significant when viewed against the more densely populated places in the world, but becomes cause for concern when placed against the context of inhabited space in the country. Kuwait’s total land area of 17,818sqkm is mainly unpopulated desert; the four million people who currently live in Kuwait are mainly concentrated along a narrow coastal belt that extends less than 500km along the Arabian Sea. This leads to a much more densely packed population than the numbers reveal and lends urgency to the need for developing new cities in the hinterland.
Kuwait’s rapidly growing populations also has a young age structures. The resulting low ratio of workers to dependents makes it more difficult for the government to invest in the physical and human capital needed for expanding economies. The labor force is also limited by the number of women who have to remain at home to take care of growing families. This therefore leads to the need for a large population of imported migrant workers.
But as the population grows, and a large migrant population remains, there arises the risk of unemployment for citizens. The economy is unable to provide desirable jobs for the rapidly growing number of young people who seek to enter the labor force each year. This gives rise to vigorous competition for limited numbers of jobs and in turn causes wages to tumble and consequently results in less than anticipated lifestyles. The presence of large numbers of dissatisfied, unemployed and frustrated young population often leads to socio-economic tensions, high crime rates and political instability.
The rapid population increase also brings up environmental stresses that have been building up over time and are likely to become much more severe as the country’s population and economies expand further in the coming years.
Another issue that comes from population overgrowth is the fate of the ageing population. In Kuwait while only 2 percent of the population is above the age of 65, it is estimated that eventually the country will reach parity with the rest of the world, where it is expected that by 2030 there will be more people over 60 than children under 10.
Among the ageing population, it is the older women who are often more vulnerable; after a lifetime of gender-based discrimination, these women find that in old age their problems are exacerbated by discrimination on the basis of old age. In addition, older women, particularly widows, are often subjected to discriminatory inheritance laws and practices and harmful traditional misconceptions that keep them astray of society.
The data from Kuwait’s rapid population growth highlights the old saying that ‘if one wishes to escape from a hole, then the first thing is to stop digging’. This may not currently seem relevant in the context of Kuwait, but it is definitely worth a thought. As many countries in other parts of the world will attest, a rapidly growing population is sometimes a precursor to inadequate access to education and health care, increased unemployment and instability.