The UAE has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, with high living costs and a growing focus on building careers over starting families contributing to a decades-long decline, a study has said.
Global statistics found birth rates stood at 1.39 per woman in the country last year, down from 1.82 in 2010 and a huge drop from 2.4 in 2000 and 4.45 in 1990.
The figures – collated by US-based data resource organisation Knoema – placed the UAE 174th out of 189 nations analysed.
The 10 countries with the highest fertility rates were all found in Africa, with Niger leading the way on 6.82.
Dr Pankaj Shrivastav, consultant fertility specialist and director of Conceive Gynaecology and Fertility Hospital in Sharjah, said a shift away from the traditional idea of a woman's role as a homemaker was also important.
“Women who have studied and pursued a career and got married quite late - in their mid or late thirties – they have the disadvantage of a limited time span to have babies," he said.
“Those who marry at a young age are likely to have as many children as their mothers did.”
He said prevailing health issues among Emirati women were also a factor.
High levels of diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that creates a hormone imbalance which makes it more difficult for women to get pregnant, played a part in the decline.
"There are very high rates of diabetes and PCOS among the local population," Dr Shrivastav told The National.
“PCOS is very high among local ladies, and this compromises their fertility.”
He said an unhealthy diet and weight gain can worsen the symptoms of PCOS.
The Emirates also ranked below other developed countries such as the United States (1.77), the United Kingdom (1.75) and Germany (1.60).
Of those countries included in the study, South Korea had the lowest birth rate (1.09).
Dr Muna Tahlak, chief executive of Latifa Hospital in Dubai, said declining birth rates are symptomatic of a move towards smaller family units for both Emiratis and expatriates.
"This proves that the smaller family trend is now common between both nationals and residents," Dr Tahlak said in an interview with Arab-language newspaper Al Bayan.
She said greater employment opportunities afforded to both men and women in the Emirates “requires them to concentrate on work more than concentrating on building a big family”.
The data takes into account both Emirati and expatriate members of the UAE population.
The rapid decline in birth rates from 1990 to 2010 is likely to be affected by the explosion in the expatriate population during this period, with non-Emirati families traditionally being smaller in size.