June 9, 2006


Changing demographics

In 1798, the Anglican priest and economist Thomas Malthus published an essay in which he postulated that population increases in a geometrical ratio while agricultural production increases in an arithmetical ratio. Unless the population is checked voluntarily, he said, it would necessarily be limited by war, disease and vice. It was from Malthus’s work that neo-Malthusians in the 20th century concluded that birth control must be encouraged.

Other economists, though, were convinced that the fertility rate (the number of children a woman will have) will decline as standards of living continue to improve because parents will need fewer children to help support the family. That theory appears to be more accurate.

Today, the global fertility rate is estimated at 2.7 and is quickly approaching the 2.1 rate deemed the “replacement level,” the level at which children replace their parents. There is, though, a wide disparity between the fertility rate in developed countries and in developing countries. All the countries in Europe long ago dropped below the replacement level while the fertility rates in sub-Saharan Africa remain at 7 or 8.

It’s hardly news that the drop in fertility rates in the West and North has been achieved through means considered sinful by the Catholic Church. The United Nations reports that 61 percent of women worldwide use some form of birth control, the most popular being sterilization. Furthermore, the Guttmacher Institute estimates that 26 percent of all pregnancies now end in abortion, most of them in Asia or Eastern Europe.

Europe is quickly undergoing a severe demographic change. Because of its low birthrates, European countries must accept immigrants to provide its work force. Most of those immigrants are coming from Muslim countries in Africa.

According to the book While Europe Slept, Muslims will be in the majority in Western Europe by the year 2030. The author of that book, Bruce Bawer, wrote that a T-shirt popular among Muslim youth in Stockholm reads: “2030—then we take over.” The birthrate among Muslims remains high and, already today, 16 to 20 percent of children in Western Europe are Muslims. What Islam has been unable to do militarily, it seems destined to do through immigration.

Abortion rates are high in Eastern Europe because parents cannot afford to rear several children, cramped as they are in small apartments in urban areas.

In Asia, particularly in China and India, girl fetuses are the most frequent victims of abortion. China has its one-child policy; couples may not have more than one child. Women who become pregnant after having a child must abort the fetus. Since boys are considered more desirable than girls, families sometimes abandon the first baby if it’s a girl so they can try again for a boy. The policy has been modified somewhat. Now, couples who themselves had no siblings are permitted to have a second child, but only four or more years after the first.

Today, in China, there are about 120 boys for every 100 girls. About 15 percent of Chinese men are unable to find wives. American couples frequently adopt Chinese babies, almost always the girls who were abandoned, and that increases the discrepancy between men and women.

In India and other Asian countries, there is no one-child policy, but parents still prefer boys—partly because of the dowry system for girls—so they abort female fetuses. It’s now against the law in India for doctors to reveal the sex of a fetus during ultrasound tests, but the imbalance between boys and girls continues to widen.

The population continues to increase in the Muslim world outside Africa. Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh are still experiencing large families, as are the countries in the Middle East. In Israel, Arab families, who are Christian or Muslim citizens of Israel, are much larger than Jewish families, and this has resulted in complaints from the Arabs that they are being treated as second-class citizens. The Israeli government doesn’t quite know how to handle its Arab citizens, and the problem will only get worse.

The population in the United States continues to grow. Our 300 millionth resident will arrive sometime in October. Here, too, as we all know, our growth is fueled by immigration.

— John F. Fink


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