The populations of Gulf oil producers have gained more than 13 million over the past eight years to peak at 46.8 million at the end of 2011 and the figure is projected to rise to 49.8 million in 2013, according to a regional study.
After soaring by nearly 5.9 per cent a year during the latest oil boom of 2004-2008, population growth in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is estimated to have slowed down to 3.2 per cent during 2009-2013 because of slackening expatriate influx after the end of the boom, said the study by QNB Capital, an affiliate of the Qatari National Bank.
“The GCC’s booming economy in recent years has created substantial demand for expatriate workers. As a result, the region has experienced a rapid growth in population. However new forecasts show that the population growth rates are now moderating,” QNB Capital said in its brief study.
It said that despite the slowdown, the growth rate in the GCC remains very high compared to the global population average growth of 1.2 per cent a year.
“The GCC population reached an estimated 46.8 million in 2011, up sharply from 33.2 million in 2004, and is forecast to rise to 49.8 million in 2013.”
The study said the high rates of population growth in the GCC, which controls over 40 per cent of the world’s proven oil wealth, are a combination of natural growth amongst nationals and the net immigration of expatriate workers.
It projected growth of the GCC national population at around 2.4 per cent during 2009-2013, down only slightly from 2.5 per cent in the previous five years.
This is double the global average, because of a youthful population, high birth rates and improving life spans due to investment in health care, it said.
The report noted that most expatriates work in the Gulf region on a short to medium term basis. Although their total is growing, the particular individuals rotate over time according to the skills required.
The surge in expatriate numbers in 2004-2008, when they grew at a rate of 10.8 per cent, was linked to the boom in oil prices, the study said.
“This stimulated a period of rapid development in the non-oil sector which required large numbers of construction workers,” it said.
“Following the brief crash in oil prices in 2009 and weaknesses in the real estate sector in places, some analysts expected trends to reverse and expatriate numbers to fall. This did not happen because the GCC economies remained buoyant, although population growth did slow sharply in some places.”
The study forecast the GCC-based expatriate population to continue to grow at steadier rate of about four per cent during 2009-2013.
As a result of the slowdown in foreign immigration, the expatriate share of the GCC population is only forecast to rise marginally, to 48.4 per cent in 2013 from 47.8 per cent in 2011, compared to 37.8 per cent in 2004, QNB Capital said.
The report showed that the UAE population is expected to expand from 11.3 per cent of the total GCC population in 2004 to 18.2 per cent in 2013. Qatar’s share is projected to increase by over a half, from 2.4 in 2004 to 3.7 per cent in 2013.
It surpassed Bahrain as the fifth most populous GCC country in 2006.
By contrast, while Saudi Arabia still represents the majority of the region’s population, its share is expected to decline from 68 to 61 per cent.
“This is because Saudi Arabia has the highest proportion of nationals to total population in the GCC, at nearly 67 per cent in 2011,” it said.
“Population growth has been driven by expatriate immigration and it is natural that this has been highest in the countries that have relatively small national populations relative to their oil wealth, while countries like Saudi Arabia and Oman have seen more moderate levels of expatriate growth.
The report gave no population breakdown for GCC members but that of Saudi Arabia was officially put at 27.1 million in 2010, including about eight million foreigners. It is projected to have risen to 27.9 million at the end of 2011.
The UAE had around 8.2 million people at the end of 2010 while Kuwait’s population was estimated at nearly 3.5 million. Oman’s population was close to three million while Bahrain and Qatar had just over 1.5 million people each.