Jordan Table of Contents

Official Jordanian statistics gave a 1987 population figure of 2,896,800 for the East Bank. A 1982 population of 2,399,300 thus indicated an annual growth rate of between 3.6 and 4 percent. United Nations statistics projected a peak in the annual growth rate at 4.11 percent in the period from 1990 to 1995, followed by a steady decline to 2.88 percent in 2020.

Rapid development in the provision of health care services during the 1970s and 1980s led to a decline in the crude death rate from 17 per 1,000 population in 1965 to 7 per 1,000 population by 1986. During the same period, the infant mortality rate, a major indicator of a country's development and health status, dropped from 115 to 46 per 1,000 live births. In 1986 life expectancy at birth was sixty-five years (sixty-three for males and sixty-seven for females). The lowered death rate, a high birth rate, and lowered infant mortality rate combined to generate a major demographic problem in the late 1980s. At the end of the decade, more than half Jordan's population was below fifteen years of age. This situation strained the country's already limited resources, and employment for the burgeoning group of young people became increasingly difficult to provide.

Accurate demographic figures were difficult to compile because of the substantial number of Jordanians residing and working abroad and the continuous flow of West bank Palestinians with Jordanian passports back and forth between the East and West banks. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, about 224,000 people were admitted to UNRWA refugee camps in the East Bank immediately after the June 1967 War. In 1986 UNRWA cited 826,128 registered refugees living on the East Bank, of whom about 205,000 were living in refugee camps.

The exact number of Palestinians living on the East Bank was unknown. Estimates usually ranged from 60 to 70 percent of the total population. Official government statistics did not distinguish between East Bank and West Bank Jordanians.

The government did not have an officially articulated population policy or birth control program. Rather, in 1979 it adopted a "child spacing program" that was designed to improve the health of mother and child, and not specifically to lower the fertility rate. This noninterventionist approach considered family planning to be one component of an integrated maternal-child health and primary health care program. Government clinics and private medical services delivered family planning services upon request and contraceptives were widely available at low cost. In 1987 there were 116 maternal-child health care centers--up from 93 in 1983-- providing prenatal and postnatal care and a wide range of birth control information.

Jordan's high population growth can be attributed primarily to high fertility rates. In 1986 the World Bank calculated this rate as 6.0 births for each woman over the span of her reproductive years, one of the highest fertility rates in the region. This rate was projected to decline to 4.2 births by the year 2000. The fertility rate varied, however, between women residing in rural and urban areas and according to educational attainment. Educated women tended to marry at a slightly older age than uneducated women, and this delay contributed to a lower fertility rate. Urban women achieved lower fertility rates through modern methods of contraception, particularly the pill. Fertility rates were lowest in Amman, higher in smaller urban areas such as Irbid and Az Zarqa, and highest in rural areas. In rural areas modern contraceptive usage was lower, although breast-feeding, which serves to delay the return of fertility, was extended for a longer period than in the cities. World Bank data indicated that 27 percent of married women of child-bearing age were using contraception in the 1980s.

A woman was expected to have to bear five children, including at least two sons, in fairly rapid succession. Women gained status and security in their marital household by bearing children. According to a study conducted in the early 1980s by Jordanian anthropologists Seteney Shami and Lucine Taminian in a poor, squatter area in Amman, reproductive behavior was subject to several factors. If a woman had given birth to two or more sons, she might begin to space her pregnancies or stop bearing children for a while. Household structure--nuclear, extended, or multiple family--also appeared to be a crucial factor in determining fertility. The presence of other women in a household encouraged women to bear more children to improve their relative position in the household.

The overall population density for the East Bank in 1987 was established at about thirty persons per square kilometer. There was wide regional variation and the rate of urbanization was high. East of Al Mafraq, in an area encompassing almost two-thirds of the country, no towns had a population of more than 10,000. The bulk of Jordan's population was centered in the governorate of Amman and the smaller urban areas of Irbid, As Salt, and Az Zarqa. The 1987 population totals of the eight governorates ranged from 1,203,000 in Amman to 101,000 in the Maan Governorate. According to World Bank figures, about 70 percent of the population lived in urban areas. The nation's capital, Amman, accounted for more than one- third of the total population. Rapid urbanization appeared to be the result of a high fertility rate and rural-urban migration. If urbanization continued at the high annual rate of 4 to 5 percent, it was estimated that by the year 2000, nearly three-fourths of the population could be living in Amman, Az Zarqa, Irbid, As Salt, and Ar Ramtha.

The remainder of the population resided in villages scattered in an uneven pattern throughout Jordan. The nomadic and seminomadic population was very small, at most 2 to 3 percent of the population. The clearest concentrations of villages were in the fertile northwest corner and the Jordan Valley. Village size varied markedly from region to region. At one time, size related to the productive capacity of the surrounding farmland. Larger villages were located in the more fertile, generally irrigated regions where family members could reach their fields with relative ease. While village populations continued to grow, rural-urban migration drained off a steady stream of young men and sometimes whole families. Villages provided little employment for their residents, and agriculture as a way of life had declined precipitously since the 1950s.

Camps of nomadic and seminomadic beduins still existed in the late 1980s. Nomadic tribes were found mainly in the desert area east of a line from Al Mafraq to Maan. The area, about 400 kilometers long and 250 kilometers wide, is known as the badiya (pl., bawaadi, meaning desert or semidesert). Seminomadic beduins were located in the Al Ghawr and near Irbid. These seminomads descended to the Jordan Valley in the winter because of its warm climate and grazing ground for their herds. Traditionally, many of these seminomads also farmed plots of land in the valley. In the summer, they moved their herds up into the hills to avoid the intense heat.

The native inhabitants of the Jordan Valley are known as Al Ghawarna, or people of Al Ghawr. Prior to the June 1967 War, the valley was home to about 60,000 people engaged in agriculture and pastoralism. In 1971 the population had declined to 5,000 as a result of the June 1967 War and the 1970-71 conflict between the Palestinian guerrillas and the Jordanian armed forces. By 1979, however, the population had reached 85,000 as a result of government development efforts designed to attract people to settle in this area.

Refugee camps emerged in the wake of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. The original refugee settlements were tent camps, but in most places tents were replaced by rows of galvanized steel, aluminum, and asbestos shelters. There were initially five refugee camps-- Irbid, Az Zarqa, Amman New (Al Wahdat), Al Karamah (later dismantled), and Jabal al Hussein-- but six additional emergency camps were established for refugees from the June 1967 War--Al Hisn, Suf, Jarash, Baqah, Talbiyah, and Marka. Most of the camps were located near major cities in the northwest.


For more recent population estimates, see Facts about Jordan.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress