Monday, May 04, 2009

Apocalypse deferred: Steyn's dystopic demographics in error

steyn demographicsThe Wilson Center has released a study on the important demographic trends of the coming decades (here). The punch-line? Demographic trends are not easy to predict and Europe's prognosis will not follow what some commentators have supposed.
Something dramatic has happened to the world’s birthrates. Defying predictions of demographic decline, northern Europeans have started having more babies. Britain and France are now projecting steady population growth through the middle of the century. In North America, the trends are similar. In 2050, according to United Nations projections, it is possible that nearly as many babies will be born in the United States as in China. …

The human habit is simply to project current trends into the future. Demographic realities are seldom kind to the predictions that result. The decision to have a child depends on innumerable personal considerations and larger, unaccountable societal factors that are in constant flux. Yet even knowing this, demographers themselves are often flummoxed. Projections of birthrates and population totals are often embarrassingly at odds with eventual reality.
And that panic about the Islamization of Europe? Apparently not so much.
Because of this bastardization of knowledge, three deeply misleading assumptions about demographic trends have become lodged in the public mind. The first is that mass migration into Europe, legal and illegal, combined with an eroding native population base, is transforming the ethnic, cultural, and religious identity of the continent. …

On the face of it, this seemed to bear out the thesis— something of a rallying cry among anti-immigration activists— that high birthrates among immigrant Muslims presage a fundamental shift in British demography. Similar developments in other European countries, where birthrates among native- born women have long fallen below replacement level, have provoked considerable anxiety about the future of Europe’s traditionally Christian culture. Princeton professor emeritus Bernard Lewis, a leading authority on Islamic history, suggested in 2004 that the combination of low European birthrates and increasing Muslim immigration means that by this century’s end, Europe will be “part of the Arabic west, of the Maghreb.” If non- Muslims then flee Europe, as Middle East specialist Daniel Pipes predicted in The New York Sun, “grand cathedrals will appear as vestiges of a prior civilization— at least until a Saudi- style regime transforms them into mosques or a Taliban- like regime blows them up.”

One fact that gets lost … is that the birthrates of Muslim women in Europe—and around the world—have been falling significantly for some time. Data on birthrates among different religious groups in Europe are scarce, but they point in a clear direction. Between 1990 and 2005, for example, the fertility rate in the Netherlands for Moroccan-born women fell from 4.9 to 2.9, and for Turkish- born women from 3.2 to 1.9. In 1970, Turkish- born women in Germany had on average two children more than German- born women. By 1996, the difference had fallen to one child, and it has now dropped to half that number.

These sharp reductions in fertility among Muslim immigrants reflect important cultural shifts, which include universal female education, rising living standards, the inculcation of local mores, and widespread availability of contraception. Broadly speaking, birthrates among immigrants tend to rise or fall to the local statistical norm within two generations.
You can read the whole thing here.