Some thoughts on demographics

Some thoughts on demographics October 8, 2018


A mosque in Wilmersdorf
The Wilmersdorf (Germany) Mosque (Wikimedia Commons)


Demographic shrinkage of the West relative to, say, the Islamic world — and that shrinkage is dramatic — and of the more prosperous and highly educated portion within Western society relative to other classes, will have (is having) economic, political, and social effects far beyond its impact on the specific people who’re deciding not to have children.


I haven’t read systematically on this topic, but George Weigel’s 2006 The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics without God, Mark Steyn’s 2008 America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, and  Mary Eberstadt’s 2014  How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization certainly offer food for thought.


For a distinct discussion of how demographic trends can impact politics, create instability, lead to war, and so forth, see Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population, a 2005 book by my former BYU colleague (and sometimes fellow FairMormon speaker) Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer.  They worry that a society in which hundreds of thousands of men simply cannot find wives or begin families is a society that may come to view them as dangerous, and to use them as cannon fodder.


But back to the West:


The replacement rate — that is, the fertility rate per woman required to maintain a stable population — is approximately 2.1 children.


As of 2014, the actual number was 2.01 in the United States, 1.90 in the United Kingdom, 1.61 in Russia, 1.59 in Canada, 1.48 in Spain, 1.43 in Germany, 1.42 in Italy, 1.41 in Greece, and 1.40 in Japan.


By contrast, the number was 2.86 for Pakistan, 2.87 for Egypt, 3.16 for Jordan, 3.92 for the Sudan, 4.09 for Yemen, 5.25 for Nigeria, 5.43 for Afghanistan, and 6.08 for Somalia.


Weak to nonexistent economies, coupled with burgeoning and young populations, are a recipe for instability and even, perhaps, for foreign adventurism.  And very comfortable economies that pamper a dwindling population might well offer an irresistible temptation — or an infuriating target for envy and hatred.


Finland, which faces a looming election, is the world’s most rapidly aging country.  By 2030, more than a quarter of the Finnish population will be over 65, which will put enormous burdens on the country’s pension and health-care systems — just as similar trends have done in Japan.


But other European countries face the same challenge.  By 2030, Germany will have 47 people over 65 for ever7 100 people in the workforce.  Who will pay for their pensions and health care?


Retirement ages will need to be increased, which will irritate older voters.


Immigration will have to be increased in order to find more workers, which will cause all manner of social and cultural stress — and irritate many voters.


In France, the xenophobic-tending National Front of the Le Pen family has received considerable popular support.


Germany has taken in hundreds of thousands of immigrants — and a movement called“Pegida” (an acronym for the German “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident”) has arisen.  Many violent incidents against foreigners have been recorded.  And yet, given its aging population and the shortage of workers, Germany desperately needs foreigners.


Facts are facts:  Not having children leads to shrinking populations, and shrinking populations have consequences far beyond the couple choosing not to have children.


Israel would have similar problems, given overall small Jewish family sizes, were it not for immigration.  Waves of Soviet Jews saved the country for many years.  But still, high rates of reproduction among Palestinian Arabs, coupled with low Jewish rates, pose a long-term threat to the Jewishness of Israel.  Will Israel someday have a prime minister named Muhammad?  A Palestinian friend of mine has long argued that the Palestinian motto ought to be “Make love, not war.”



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