(Daily Star)- - The Ministry of Social Affairs, Central Administration for Statistics (CAS) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) released a joint report on Monday tracking quality-of-life indicators in Lebanon. The 448-page report, printed in Arabic and English, uses hundreds of charts and data tables to shed light on Lebanon's demographics, poverty rates, education levels and famed male-to-female ratio.
Overall, the study - the first of its kind since a government housing survey completed in 1996 - painted a positive picture of life in Lebanon, while also highlighting signs of widespread poverty that will not be easily overcome.
"Lebanon has seen an improvement this year in the level of living conditions, especially when it comes to social indicators like housing, education and public institutions," UNDP's Lebanon representative, Mona Hamman, said at the press conference. "The proportion of poor families in Lebanon has dropped from 31 percent in 1995 to 25 percent in 2004."
Hamman and her co-presenters at the press conference, Social Affairs Minister Nayla Rene Mouawad and CAS Director General Dr. Maral Tutelian Gidanian, promised that additional surveys will soon follow this one, including a comparative study of social conditions from 1995 to 2004.
These studies, Hamman added, will help the Lebanese government "to formulate national strategies for social development and poverty reduction."
Monday's report, entitled "The National Survey of Household Living Conditions," records data from six areas of inquiry: demographics, education, economic activity and unemployment rates, health insurance and disease, culture and leisure activities, and characteristics of residences.
Social demographics, the first section, offered the most data points.
A population pyramid showing the size of each age bracket among the Lebanese population shows the largest segments of the Lebanese population to be between 10 and 24 years of ago. "A decline within the age groups (0-4) and (5-9) is related," the report noted, "to a reduction in fertility during the past 10 years."
The drop in population over the age of 24, meanwhile, was explained by Lebanese citizens' massive migration abroad, which thins the ranks of both genders but affects men most acutely. The result of this outward migration is a steady skewing in gender ratios. Among Lebanese aged 20 to 24 years, the report noted, men outnumber women by about 4 percent. But around the age of 25, their share of the population begins to erode. By the time Lebanese reach the age bracket 40 to 44, the male to female ratio has fallen from 104.4 to 80.0 - meaning that for every five women in their early 40s, there are only four men.
Distinctions by gender also permeated the report's economic indicators. Working women, it said, the great majority of them in their twenties and thirties, make up 23.3 percent of total working individuals in Lebanon. Only 14 percent of Lebanese households are headed by women.
The data compiled on education, meanwhile, was more telling when dissected by region. All six Lebanese governorates boasted near-total rates of school enrollment among children aged 5-14. But over age 15, the rate of enrollment dropped off most sharply in North and South Lebanon, Nabatiyeh, and the Bekaa. North Lebanon was the lowest of all, with an average enrollment rate of only 61 percent among children aged 15-19. In Beirut and Mount Lebanon, by contrast, at least 77 percent of children in that age group remained in school.
Drop-out rates in this age group, the report added, were notably higher among men. At the secondary level, the net enrollment rate for males throughout the country is barely 39 percent. For women, it is almost 46 percent.
Still, the sum of the report's findings on education in Lebanon painted a heroic picture of progress through the decades. While more than half of citizens aged 85 or older, for example, are unable to read, the problem of illiteracy is almost non-existent among their grandchildren. Among Lebanese aged 10-14, the report said, the illiteracy rate is an amazingly low 0.05 percent.
The same trend held for formal educational achievement. Roughly a third of the total Lebanese population, it said, has attained an elementary school education; 13 percent has a university degree or higher. "[But] it is important to note the inverse relation between the educational level and the age group," the report added. "There is an increase in the university level education for the age groups (20-24) and (25-29) to approximately 37 percent and 24 percent respectively, as opposed to a decline to less than 7 percent for the age groups 60 years and above."
On the subject of health insurance, findings were mixed. Only in Beirut and Mount Lebanon did more than half the population hold some form of insurance. In South Lebanon and Nabatieh, the areas most hard hit by this summer's war, only a third or less of residents had any type of health insurance.