The Birth Dearth

If Islam is indeed advancing, then according to many recent accounts, it has little opposition that it need overcome. Writers stress the collapse of older religious values—especially Christianity—and link that directly to the demographic crisis. Niall Ferguson agrees that Europe's Muslims "may well outnumber believing Christians, given the collapse of church attendance and religious faith in Europe." Charles Krauthammer portrays "a cocooned, aging, post-historic Europe," a society waiting for the barbarians. For conservative Pat Buchanan, the West is approaching calamity, as "dying populations and immigrant invasions imperil our country and civilization."13

In demographic terms, modern Europe seems to have embarked on a self-destructive social experiment unprecedented in human history, what some have called slow-motion autogenocide. For a society to maintain its existing level of population, it needs a total fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman, the extra fraction needed to compensate for losses through infant mortality. Across Europe, social change over the past three decades has been reflected in a steep decline in family size and a growth in single-parent households. Today, western European nations report some of the lowest birth rates ever recorded. The Italian birth rate fell below 1.5 in 1984, and is now about 1.28; so is Spain's. Eastern European rates are comparable, generally around 1.2 or 1.3. The German birth rate is 1.39 overall, but actually falls below 1.0 in some German regions, lower than the rate for the horrific last year of the second world war. Between 25 percent and 30 percent of German women will remain childless: the figure for college graduates is over 40 percent. The situation pointedly recalls Günter Grass's 1982 novel Headbirths, which portrays a worldly young couple just too engaged with career and material prosperity ever to consider children. His book's subtitle: The Germans Are Dying Out. Projections of European population over the next thirty years or so suggest an absolute decline in European population worse than that inflicted by Hitler's war. Italy could lose a fifth of its population by 2050.14

And matters are scarcely improving, despite some claims to see an encouraging rebound in birth statistics: in France, the rate is now above 1.8 and rising, making France the most fertile society in Europe, except for Ireland. Actually, such rosy figures are misleading because they present an average that combines the still very low rates of old-stock white French people, les français de souche, with the much higher rates of their immigrant neighbors. If we just focus on old-stock populations, the birth dearth becomes ever more apparent. At the same time, improvements in medical care and the standard of living mean that the people who have had the good fortune to be born are living significantly longer than in bygone eras.15

Putting these trends together, we find societies with far fewer children and more old people, so that the median age of a nation rises dramatically. In a typical Third World nation, the proportion of people aged below 14 is about a third, while perhaps 4 percent or 5 percent are over 65. In most western European nations the over-65s currently represent at least a sixth of the population—a quarter in Italy—while the under-14s make up 16 percent to 20 percent. As the low birth rates show no sign of growing, the proportion of old Europeans will increase, and at least for a few decades, the nations will become more elderly. By 2050, by some predictions, 40 percent of Italians will be over the age of 60. For Europe as a whole, the median age will rise in the same period from 37 today to 52.3. The U.S. median at that point, for comparison, will be about 35, roughly what it is today. Old and New Worlds, graying Europe and impetuous young America, will contemplate each other with quite the mutual bafflement that they did in Henry James's day.16 This demographic situation poses real difficulties in both the short and long term. If those older people are to survive, someone has to carry on working to pay the taxes to provide their services. This need becomes all the more imperative if older Europeans hope to keep on receiving the high level of social benefits to which they have become accustomed, and many plan to retire in their mid-fifties. As Mark Steyn observes, "The design flaw of the secular social-democratic state is that it requires a religious-society birthrate to sustain it."17

If the labor force cannot be found among old-stock white Europeans, then that shortage has to be met from elsewhere, and since the

1960s, that has meant heavy immigration, from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. Such immigrants usually come from lands with fertility rates higher than Europe's, countries that cannot cope with the numbers they already have: new inhabitants will desperately wish to migrate somewhere. In the Arab world as a whole, the population over the past fifty years has grown from 80 to 320 million, and half of those are under 20 years of age. Demographic factors provide a powerful force driving migration from North Africa. At the end of its revolution in 1962, Algeria had around 10 million people, but that figure today has risen to 33 million, and almost 30 percent of those are below the age of 14. Morocco's 33 million people have an even younger age profile, with around a third aged 14 or lower. The median age of these populations is around 24, compared with 39 in France, 40 in Spain, 42 in Italy and Germany.18 The demographic contrast is even more marked when we look at some other countries that have served as major sources of migrants: almost 40 percent of Pakistanis are 14 or younger, and the country's median age is below 20. As Fouad Ajami writes, in contrast to Europe, "fertility rates in the Islamic world are altogether different: they are 3.2 in Algeria, 3.4 in Egypt and Morocco, 5.2 in Iraq and 6.1 in Saudi Arabia. This is Europe's neighborhood, and its contemporary fate . . . nemesis is near." As we will see, these figures need closer examination, but the difference in fertility rates is significant.19

The fact of immigration is itself usually associated with large families, because people who move between continents are normally in the prime years for begetting and bearing children. In the European context, this fact means the rapid expansion of non-European populations, especially of people from Muslim countries, whose values often differ substantially from those of old-stock Europeans. In France, less than a third of women born in the early 1960s have three or more children, but these women produced more than half the children born to their particular cohort. And the women with high birth rates are disproportionately likely to be either conservative Catholics or, more commonly, Muslims.20

As old-stock Europeans despair of the future, so some Muslims rejoice. Libya's Muammar Qaddafi dreams that "there are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe without swords, without guns, without conquests. The fifty million Muslims of Europe [sic] will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades." Another would-be prophet of an Islamic Europe is the Norwegian-based Islamist leader Mullah Krekar, who crows, "Look at the development of the population in Europe, where the number of Muslims increases like mosquitoes. Each Western woman in the E.U. produces, on average, 1.4 children. Each Muslim woman in these same countries produces 3.5 children. By 2050, thirty percent of the European population will be Muslim."21

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