The Bigger Picture
Published on March 19th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
Last week I closed my column by saying “just as the US led the world into the current economic recession, so too will the US lead the world out of it.” One of my friends questioned this reasoning given the continuous stream of bad economic news currently emanating from America. I told them that, in addition to my belief the US economy would bottom out and start improving before the EU’s, America had a number of other factors working in its favor that Ireland and the EU did not.
Today I’ll be discussing America, France, the EU and the three I’s; Immigration, Integration and Impregnation. As a basis for this discussion I will be using the equation D+E=F+ or (cultural) Diversity + Equality (of opportunity) = Fertility + (higher rates of).
All of these different factors affect a country’s demographic trends, which I believe have a wider and longer lasting impact on a nation’s society than any other single political, social or economic force has. But we don’t notice changes in demographics like we do changes involving those other forces because a country’s demography changes very gradually and over much longer periods of time, usually several decades
A 19th-century French philosopher named Auguste Comte once said that “Demography is destiny” in an effort to emphasize its huge yet very subtle influence on the political, social and economic changes that occur in any given country. Comte is also considered the father of “sociology” so I find it ironic that so many practitioners of social science (including anthropology, communication studies, criminology, economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, social studies and sociology) don’t pay more attention to changes in the demographics of a nation’s population.
But during the past 50 years some economists and politicians in the world’s developed countries have taken note of demographic trends that they find worrisome. However, unlike most of their fellow citizens, their biggest concern isn’t the effect that unfettered immigration of people from poor developing countries will have on their nations’ education and social welfare system. Rather their concern is that their countries will soon be unable to financially support their existing education and social welfare infrastructure unless something is done to arrest a decline in their national populations.
Most of these concerned economists and politicians have only recently come to the conclusion that the solution to the problem of declining population involves one or more of the three I’s; Immigration, Integration and or Impregnation. That is because the two main reasons why countries’ populations begin to decline are low rates of inward migration and or low fertility rates. In the developing world countries need higher birth and fertility rates of 3 or more children per woman because so many children die at a young age and adults there have a shorter life expectancy. But in more developed nations like the US and Ireland, women of child bearing age need to have only slightly more than 2 children each in order to maintain their countries’ populations at their current levels.
When the number of impregnations and subsequent childbirths in developed countries falls below the replacement fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman for a period of 30 or more years, then that nation’s total population begins to slowly decline unless it is offset by significant levels of immigration. If those immigrants are able to successfully integrate with the native population, they and their children will remain in that country as productive members of society. But if they do not find acceptance in that country, these immigrants and their children will either leave or become a social welfare burden to it.
One doesn’t have to look far to see examples of immigrants who either have or have not been successful integrating into the native communities of their new homelands. Many here in Europe cite their respective country’s Muslim communities as the most glaring example of less than successful integration of immigrants into their societies. Judging by the attitudes expressed by both Muslim émigrés and non-Muslim natives in the UK and Germany, such observations appear to be fairly accurate.
But despite the fairly recent 2005 and 2007 urban riot in the mainly Muslim banlieues of its largest cities, this doesn’t seem to be the case in France. Contrary to many news reports at the time, there wasn’t any religious aspect to these disturbances, rather they were social riots triggered by the poor housing, racial discrimination and unemployment of up to 40% in the grim housing estates surrounding France’s largest cities. The young rioters were not just Muslims either, but also included many Christian teenagers from the Caribbean as well as many other non-Muslim teenage immigrants.
In fact, a recent Pew research poll taken after these riots concluded that “All in all, one might conclude that, despite their problems, prime among them joblessness among youth generally, not just Muslim youth, the French need to take no integrationist lessons from their European neighbors.” Polls show that in France far fewer Muslims see any kind of conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in modern French society. Almost half of America’s Christians, 48%, and France’s Muslims, 42%, consider themselves to be American or French national citizens first (not as a Christian or Muslim first) vs. only 7% in the UK, and 13% in Germany. In Muslim countries, those putting national identity ahead of religious, ranges from 6% in Pakistan to 39% in Indonesia.
Despite widespread reports of French nationalists and Americans distaste for Muslim immigrants, research indicates that Muslims in both the US and France are generally more assimilated and prosperous than Muslims in the rest of Europe. As a result, Muslim immigration to France and to America has continued to increase. In fact more people from Islamic countries became legal permanent US residents in 2005 than in any other year in the previous two decades.
But France and America also share another similarity I’ll discuss more next week; they have the highest fertility rates of all the world’s developed countries.