Saturday, December 02, 2006

Demography Contradictions

There is considerable discussion in Europe and among Europe-watchers of the impact the birthrate will have long-term for European culture. In short, Europeans have a total fertility rate (TFR) below replacement level. The range is from extremely low in Italy and the former Soviet Republics (1.2 births/woman) to only slightly below replacement level in France (2.0 births/woman, where 2.1 –2.3 is replacement).

Making this more dramatic is that the birthrate for native Europeans is lower still. Immigrants have TFR’s well above replacement level. It is true that immigrant populations’ TFR’s move toward the host country’s rate in the first generation and approach it in the second, suggesting that there might not be a geometric effect. It is also true, however, that “native European” includes 2nd-generation immigrants from largely Muslim countries over the past decades, many of whom have not well-acculturated, the TFR looks even more ominous. I have said only half-kiddingly that in a generation, your tourguides at the Louvre and Versailles will be Algerians.

Americans have generally tut-tutted over this, secure in out TFR’s over 2.1 year in/year out. Many commenters, including some Europeans, have attributed these higher numbers to our increased religiosity. Even in Europe, religious people have a higher birthrate, and we just have a higher percentage of religious people here. I noted in passing in our discussion of Who Really Cares that conservatives have more children on average that liberals – unsurprising given that religious people are more likely to be conservative.

There has been ample speculation of the psychology of this as well, that religious people are more likely to anticipate a hopeful future and have more confidence in their ability to prepare children for whatever difficulties might arise – thus, more small persons in church.

The overall map of this new Conventional Wisdom is Europe will increasingly become Eurabia, unable to maintain its generous social supports without reliance on an increasingly numerous and culturally demanding Muslim population. In two generations, Europe as we know it (implied without acknowledgement: white) will no longer exist. Meanwhile, in those same two generations America will continue to grow, with liberals underbreeding and aborting themselves out of existence, while white conservatives gradually join hands with black Baptists, Latino Catholics and Pentecostals, and Asian Everythings to create a stable, multi-racial society while most of the rest of Western Civilization goes to hell in a handbasket. Nyah, nyah, nyah to all you uppity Europeans.

Not so fast. There are several other streams of data which call this into serious question.

The TFR in America for Whites is 1.8, African-Americans 2.7, Latinos 2.9. A considerable portion of the Latino group is 1st and 2nd generation. That TFR will drop. The other factor that causes TFR’s to drop is increased wealth. Not relative wealth, but absolute. No matter how much inequality increases in the iPod economy, absolute wealth will rise, driving the African-American and Latino numbers lower.

Without immigration, then, we are not likely to long remain at replacement level. I suppose that’s a moot point.

The 1.8 for whites is not very different from the 1.7 - 1.75 of Scandinavian women. Their robust numbers by European standards can be attributed to their pro-natalist policies, not their religious observance. The Scandinavian countries make enormous efforts to support parenting: lots of time off, lots of child care, tax benefits, guaranteed return to jobs for women. These policies were originally intended (at least partly) as feminist issues, to guarantee women’s ability to return to the workplace. Apparently, they do help keep the birthrate up, in defiance of the factors that we think do so in America.

If the Kay Hymowitz info is even close to correct, then the two-parent families – black, white, or Latino, are delaying marriage and children. The replacement-level TFR’s are a result of our more impulsive, less stable, less educated groups having more children. That has always been the fear of elitists and racists, of course. For at least a century there have been dire warnings that the unfit, poorer, lesser folk are having all the children and will soon outnumber we sensible people. Somehow the crisis has never hit, suggesting that a freer society allows people to escape perdition more than we expected. And that the unfit people are actually quite competent, thank you very much, despite our condescension.

Perhaps most interesting in the demographic projections is to note that this decline in birthrate has been happening gradually for two centuries. Whatever is driving that is likely to continue. (Because of the brief – 20 year – reversal of this trend after WWII, we are only now recognizing that the longer pattern is reasserting itself). The usual 3 nominations – life expectancy; improved childhood survival; wealthier, less agricultural society – are going to continue, whichever of them is the main “culprit.”

While it might be fascinating and darkly significant to contemplate that in 2050 in Italy, children will not have siblings, cousins, aunts, or uncles, it pays to remember that this is 44 years away. I won’t be here to see it. A lot can happen between now and then, throwing the numbers into reverse or acceleration.


jw said...

I might add that as the male contraceptives come online over the next decade or two we will see a further drop in the birth rate. I'd say it is reasonable to say we will drop far below the replacement rate.

What happens then? Hard to say ...

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Hadn't thought of that. We'll see what kind of a wild card that is, and where.

Anonymous said...

I think there is one major difference you are missing here: The European countries are not built for immigration. You can be black, Asian, or Latino and still be an American, but there is no such thing as a black German. They might formally be a citizen, they might hold the passport, but they will not be accepted as German by other Germans, ever. Nor will their children ever be.

America doesn't have to care about its birthrate, because it just can open the gates a bit wider. What is at stake for the European countries is their whole concept of a nation-state based on the identity as a unified ethnic group. This is why the current situation is threatening to them in a way it could never be to the United States: It threatens the very foundation their nations are built on. Europe can either die or change into an immigrant society like the U.S., and personally, I don't think they have the guts to do that.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Interesting take. They have been so to splitting into tribes which mean a great deal to them but are invisible to us. But racially, they cannot absorb. Look at their record with Jews and Gypsies, even recently. They did not have to define as strongly in terms of ideas and culture, because race made the easy divisions for them.

Now they have to integrate immigrants on the basis of ideas and attitudes of culture, and they can't do it.