Sunday, June 29, 2008

Thorough discussion of European birth dearth appears: "sustainability" swings both ways

Today (June 29 2008) The New York Times Magazine, starting on p. 34 in print, offers a detailed analysis by Russell Shorto of the supposed “birth dearth” in much of Europe. The article title is simply “No Babies?” (“No hay bebes?”, “Keine kinder?” “nessun bambino?” The link is here.

Shorto gives a detailed and balanced, if meandering, discussion of the “demographic storm” in Europe. We all know some of the economic and social consequences: too few workers supporting too many retirees, some of them requiring care in nursing homes. He points out a number of observations often slighted by social conservatives. For one thing, the lowest European birthrates tend to occur in Southern and Eastern Europe. He gives a lot of detailed discussion of Italy. Generally, in these areas there is less support for families (like parental leave) and women do not participate as much in the workplace, partly because of cultural customs regarding the family. In Scandanavian countries, and also France, there seems to be much more generous support for families in terms of leave and benefits, and women are much more likely to work, increasing family income. As a result, families can afford more children. Even so, in many of these “progressive” countries, the birthrate is a bit less than 2.0 children for family, not enough to maintain native population.

In the United States, birthrates are higher for a number of reasons. But one of the largest is immigration (including illegal), and the tendency for legal immigrants to assimilate into American culture. Another may be a culture that supports two income families. In the United States, there is no mandatory provision for paid parental leave, and the unpaid leave provisions are weak. But among more progressive companies, there is a voluntary practice of providing it among longer term associates.

Europe, moreover, is faced with a cultural demographic problem. Muslim immigrants do not assimilate well, sometimes are drawn to extremism (particularly in Britain and Spain), tend to send money back to families in home countries. If Muslim immigrants have more babies, eventually the political stability of European democracy could be threatened, as Bruce Bawer argued in his book “While Europe Slept”.

Back in February, The Nation had published an article by Katyrn Joyce called “Wanted: The ‘Right’ Babies” along with videos (like “More white babies”) spinning this whole “demographic winter” argument as disguised racism or prejudice. “It’s an old argument,” she says. Indeed, we’ve heard it for a while now, mostly from the Right (until today). The blog entry is on Feb. 20 on the Issues blog, here.

The arguments about birth rates and population replacement fit into broader concerns about “sustainability” as noted on other blogs recently. Three decades ago, exploding population was seen as an ecological problem in a way that previews the global warming debate today. But the “sustainability” issue has become more nuanced. An aging population presents novel sustainability problems in more advanced countries, and immigration population demographics can undermine democratic stability. Conservatives can use “sustainability” arguments to suggest that reproduction is a personal moral obligation and use it to attack gay rights, and these arguments have recently been made related to gay marriage. In Poland, in fact, conservative politicians used the fact that Muslim immigrants “take care of their families” to attack gay rights, an observation I noticed in a Pittsburgh newspaper in the Andy Warhol Museum last year.

Visitors may want to check the front page June 30 USA Today article by Haya El Nasser, "Births fueling Hispanic growth," indicating that higher birthrates account for more of the Hispanic share of US population than does immigration (legal or not), link here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd be very wary of using "While Europe Slept" as a source. On demographics the author absurdly claimed 30% of French babies are Muslim.

Consider the following, just under 10% of the French population is Muslim. Crucially, the great North African immigration wave hit French shores between WW2 and the first oil crisis. Since the mid-seventies immigration has slowed to a trickle. When it comes to immigration policy France is hardly sleeping.

But the main point is that you'll find those 10% spread out over all age groups, pensioners to babies. They're not concentrated in the child bearing demographic. Now consider that France has the second highest fertility rates in Europe, with 2 children per woman. For Muslims babies to actually make up 30% of all newborns their mothers would need fertility rates higher than even Afghanistan! Absurd! The real rates are actually lower than their cousins in North Africa, where fertility rates are nearing 2,5 children per woman.

In short, the actual percentage of Muslim babies is less than 15%. Which means a hundred years from now Muslims are still a minority in France. And if integration hasn't worked after a century then something has gone very very wrong and can't be blamed purely on immigrant intransigence.