Demographic Survey: Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Three decades ago, when the last population census was conducted in Iraq, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) still had rapid population growth, with half of the population under the age of 15.  Today, KRI is about to enter the “demographic window” and a substantial decline in the fertility rates is moving the population towards demographic stability. The dependency ratio has nearly halved (from 113 to 64 dependents per 100 individuals of working age) while the average household size has dropped from 6.2 to 5.1 members.

This transition can be linked to the process of urbanisation, which has been particularly intense in the Governorates of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. With the move from the countryside to urban centres, people have enjoyed better working and living conditions, which have brought along rapid social and cultural change. The comparison between urban and rural indicators shows a gap remains: rural populations are, on average, younger (with 37% of under the age of 15), though younger generations are catching up the lag in the decline of birth rates.

This demographic shift has been accompanied and sustained by the establishment of a de facto autonomous Kurdistan Region under United Nations auspices in 1991. As a result, the KRI has experienced very different conditions from the rest of Iraq: it has witnessed virtually no violence during the 2003 United States-led invasion and, as a consequence, has enjoyed a better security environment in subsequent years. The comparison between the KRI population and the displaced population hosted in the region confirms this finding. Displaced families – and particularly those originally from Ninewa and Salah al-Din and settled in camps in the KRI – report on average poorer indicators at all levels.

Hence, KRI families currently enjoy an adequate living standard: nearly all possess most common household appliances, three quarter of all families own the house they live in – which is connected to the public water and electricity networks and equipped with sanitation facilities.

Nevertheless, challenges remain and 87% of households have a monthly income of less than 1,000,000 Iraqi Dinar (approximately 850 United States dollars). This finding can mainly be attributed to the fact that the KRI closely fits the definition of a “rentier economy”, with two thirds of households on the public payroll. The recent economic crisis has also squeezed the already limited private sector, to the point that it now barely employs 30% of the workforce. Though hard to quantify, as many statistics on economic indicators are unavailable, the impact of the recession is clearly reflected in the fact that more than 20% of youth (18-34 ages) out of workforce reported to have lost hope in finding a job.

A summary of other key findings from the survey can be found below.

  •  98% of the population is born in Iraq and 99% are Iraqi citizens. In addition, nearly all households (97.4%) are currently residing in their habitual residence.
  • 35% of the population is younger than 15 years, 61% belongs to the active age groups and 4% is 65 or above. Compared to 1987, a relative increase in the population of working age (between 15 and 64) to the population below 15 has been recorded (the respective shares in 1987 were 47% and 50%).
  • The population appears overall gender-balanced, reporting an indicator of 100 males per 100 females. However, excess male mortality and possibly out-migration was found in certain age brackets, particularly in the 55–59 age group. The almost uninterrupted series of uprisings and repression between 1958 and 1991 – that is, the 1961 Kurdish revolt, 1983 Kurdish uprising, 1986–1989 Anfal killings and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War – has also caused a delay in fertility, hollowing the population pyramid in those years, and increased male mortality.
  • The average household size is 5.1 members per household and nearly all households are headed by men (90%). Marriage is universal for both sexes and the mean age at first marriage is 20.7 for females and 24.5 for males. When women are the head of household this is often related to widowhood, which ranges from 20% for widowed women in the 20 to 24 age group to 94% in the over 65 age group.
  • Similar to marriage, childbearing is universal among women. Among the ever-married females less than 5% have remained childless at the end of their reproductive life. Women experience their prime reproductive years during their late twenties and early thirties and women have an average of 3 children.  Women with higher educational degrees show delayed and reduced fertility.
  • The overall Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) is 23 deaths per 1,000 births, which represents improvement compared to IMR in 2011 (28 per 1,000 births) according to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS).
  • Regarding vulnerabilities: 11% are female headed, 13% have a mentally/physically impaired member or more than two thirds dependents; in 15% of households no one has worked in the week preceding the survey; and in 27% the head of household (HoH) has not worked in the week preceding the survey.
  • 3% of individuals present one disability – two-thirds from a skeletal, disfiguring or mobility impairment and less than one-third an intellectual, mental and psychological impairment.
  • Over 45% of the population aged 6 years and above has no primary education degree. Nevertheless around 80% can read and/or write. Older individuals (over 65 years) are five times more likely (86%) than young adults aged 18–24 (17%) not to have a primary education degree. Accordingly, literacy rates are lower among the elderly, particularly elderly women. Among non-graduates, 65% of males can read and write compared to 44% of females.
  • Over 40% of the KRI population aged between 15 and 64 years is an active part of the labour force. The gender gap, however, is quite large: women in the work force represent barely 15% of the women of working age – compared to 70% among males.
  • Education appears to be strongly correlated to labour force participation, especially for women: 34% of women holding a secondary or a graduate degree have worked in the week preceding the survey as compared to 5% of women who have completed primary, intermediate or basic education and 4% of women who have no education degree.
  • The public sector employs nearly half of the working population and as much as 75% of working women. Men’s occupational status is more varied: 44% are in the public sector, 12% in the private sector, 21% are self-employed, 21% are daily workers and 2% are unpaid family workers.
  • Males also start working at an earlier age than females, as 14% of adolescent males aged 15–17 years had worked compared to 1% of adolescent girls. The reasons for not working are also gender-biased: between 78% and 93% of women aged 25 to 64 years are housewives or doing housework. males who are out of the workforce, on the other hand, are mostly young and studying.
  • Nearly 36% of households have a monthly income of less than 500,000 Iraqi Dinars (IQD); over 51% an average monthly income of 500,000 – 1,000,000 IQD; and 13% of households earn over 1,000,000 IQD per month.
  • The public sector is the main source of family income: almost two thirds of households are on the public payroll, because at least one of their members is either a public employee (47%) or a pensioner (18%). Nearly 30% of individuals work in the private sector, while agriculture employs less than 6%.
  • Two thirds of households own their dwelling, while 8% live for free in accommodation provided by a relative. Roughly half of the households are connected to a sewage network and the other half use septic tanks. Access to the public water network is nearly universal.
  • Despite near-universal access, the average electricity supply is limited to 17 hours per day and shared generators (89%) are the most common option to cover for the remaining hours. Only 2% of households can afford private generators.
  • Common household appliances, such as television, stove or refrigerator have almost universal prevalence. Nevertheless, 43% of households do not own a car, 68% do not have a IT device, 54% have no internet access and in 19% of households no one owns a smart phone.
  • Vulnerability – and living standards in general – are linked to several socio-economic characteristics, such as the sex and age of the head of household, his/her level of education and his/her conditions of work. For instance, the share of households who have a monthly income of less than 500,000 Iraqi Dinars (IQD) increases from 33% for male-headed households to 56% for female-headed households.
  • Forced displacement is another characteristic correlated with the poor performance of most indicators. The displaced population in KRI has, on average, a less balanced structure in terms of sex and age, higher dependency ratios and lower literacy and employment rates.
  • A higher incidence of vulnerabilities was also recorded among the displaced camp population: 14% of households are female-headed, 15% include a mentally or physically challenged member and in 57% the head of household was not working. Camp households are also more likely to report absent members (5%) and deceased members (7%) since 2014 than KRI households (1% and 4% respectively).
  • Among KRI households, 82% of the individuals reported missing since 2014 and 64% of those who have died since 2014 are males. Leaving the country is the most frequently reported reason for absence of both sexes (87% for males and 61% for females) and at all ages. Illnesses (and sudden deaths) are overall the main cause of death, except for the 15–34 age bracket, where killings (direct or indirect casualties of conflict) are more prevalent.
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