I posted a comment on Unfogged explaining why death rates in the Arab world are so low. Cala suggested lack of birth control as a reason, in response to which I said:
Cala, it’s not just lack of birth control. The entire third world lacks birth control, but its total death rate can be very high or very low.
Rather, what’s different is that Arab states are fairly well-developed. Iraq had a burgeoning middle class; Saudi Arabia once had a GDP per capita on a par with the developed world; Qatar has a higher GDP per capita than Japan. With the exception of Jordan and Palestine, all Arab countries with a death rate less than 4.5 also have a 5-figure GDP per capita.
All the curable diseases that haunt Sub-Saharan Africa are either absent or barely present in the Middle East and Mediterranean Africa. It’s not as if there’s no health infrastructure in the Middle East, then. Kuwait doesn’t have the same quality of health care as Japan, but it doesn’t have the same quality as Afghanistan, either. Iraq and Yemen, both of which have high death rates by regional standards, also have very high infant mortality.
Here’s where birth control comes in. The Middle East isn’t the most misogynistic region of the world – some areas of South Asia are even worse – but it’s misogynistic enough that women are kept barefoot and pregnant. Add that to oil-based elites that have no interest in keeping the population educated, and you get a population boom that creates a third-world age structure, without the endemic diseases that keep life expectancy dismally low in countries like Niger and Sierra Leone.