Popul Today. 1984 Jul-Aug;12(7-8):12.
Libya’s population at 3.7 million is small but growing so rapidly that it should double by 2000. At this time 90% of the population live in less than 25% of the land area, and 40% live in 1 of the 2 major cities, Tripoli and Benghazi. Since oil was discovered in the 1950s, Libya’s economy has been almost totally dependent upon petroleum exports. Prices have dropped sharply since 1980 because of the world oil glut, but oil still provides a rich income. The government has used the substantial oil revenues for ambitious construction projects, expansion of educational and health facilities, and creation of a modern defense establishment to foster economic development and political strength. Libya has enjoyed remarkable improvements in living standards and school enrollment over the past 30 years. Literacy increased from 23% for men and 2% for women to 73% for men and 40% for women since the 1950s. Prior to 1950, Libya’s population grew at less than 2% annually, but since then declining mortality, high birthrates, and increasing immigration have caused growth rates to soar above 4%. Consistent with Arab tradition, Libyans favor large families. Women marry at around age 17 and bear an average of 7 children. The Moslem culture disapproves of women working outside the home, and only about 5% do so. The government encourages the high birthrates to increase the small native population. Importation of modern contraceptive is illegal, and family planning does not receive government support although maternal and child health projects do. The increases in education and labor force participation of women may lead to lower fertility in the future. The average Libyan’s life expectancy was 43 during the 1950s and about 190 of every 1000 babies died before their 1st birthday. In the 1980s life expectancy is up to about 65, and infant mortality down to 90/1000 births. The mortality decline can be directly attributed to vaccination campaigns carried out during the late 1950s and the expansion of health care financed by petroleum exports. The decline in mortality coupled with the continuation of high birthrates have produced an annual rate of natural increase of 3.3%, but the most marked changes in the population are from international migration. Since 1965, hundreds of thousands of foreign laborers have been attracted to Libya by the promise of high wages and generous social services. Libya faces several problems in the near future. 47% of the population are under age 15, and the communities of aliens, viewed suspiciously by the native Libyans, appear to be permanent additions to the society.
Keywords: Libya: spotlight.