My first research interest was the study of mortality in countries where available statistics are not sufficiently reliable to apply established methodologies, and I developed methods of indirect demographic estimation. Using incomplete vital records and designing special panel surveys made it possible to measure general, maternal, and infant and child mortality as well as causes of death in several countries of the Arab world and Sub-Saharan Africa.
I then moved to the demographic study of social, economic and political features uniquely combining in the Arab world, such as: women’s condition; the salience of religion; the political economy of oil wealth; war and communal conflicts; the rise of political violence; etc. My contribution was in particular:
- To highlight the limits of explaining demographic specificities in Islamic societies by culture and religion;
- To develop the notion that oil wealth and its trickle down in a context of patriarchal societies has supported the persistence of high levels of fertility and produced rapid population growth;
- To show that exceptionally high levels of fertility in both Israel and the Palestinian territories were produced by the economic ramifications of belligerence rather than by conflicting ideologies;
- To evidence that the patriarchal system was no longer sustainable;
- To demonstrate that four, and only four, processes explain the continuous expansion of Islam since the 7th century: conversion, demographic differentials, migration, and intermarriage.
- To launch the processing of the micro-data of the first population census of Modern Egypt (1848) and uncover the family dynamics and structure in mid-nineteenth century Cairo;
In recent years, I have mainly researched international migration, addressing in particular the following questions.
- How do international migration and fertility interact in the course of the demographic transition? I studied a mechanism I call the “global demographic benefit of international migration”, by which ideas conveyed by migrants to non-migrants of their community of origin impact on practices that lead to the reduction of birth rates in the source countries.
- Can replacement migration help Europe to respond to the economic consequences of its demographic predicament, such as skills ageing?
- What are the consequences of revolts in the Arab countries on migration, from the Mediterranean refugee crisis to longer term developments?