Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rethinking Europe's Ethnic Future

There is much talk lately of the demographic transformation of Europe. (Go here for a review of this small but growing and useful literature; one more has come out, which I have read and may review, since I wrote that post.) The pessimistic argument says that Europe is being swamped by immigration and by higher fertility among non-native immigrants, many Muslim, who feel no allegiance to the culture they are swamping. But the data appear to be telling a different story now, at least in one European country. The level of immigration and especially political asylum claims appear to be in decline; it is instead emigration of natives that is the biggest concern.

The statistics below are all from the population section of Statistics Netherlands. The table below shows total native-Dutch population from 1996-2008:


So population is stabilizing and on the verge perhaps of beginning to decline, which is an oft-told tale. Total “persons with a foreign background,” i.e. with at least one non-Dutch parent, have risen, although are still just a bit over ten percent of the population:


So the population of such individuals is growing, but far more slowly than a few years ago. It grew 11.1% between 1996 and 2000, but only 4.1% from 2004 to 2008. Given that it includes mixed marriages and people from other Western countries, and that some presumably nontrivial portion of this group is on the way to assimilation in all the ways that matter, the marginal impact of Third World population movement to Holland may be falling.

Immigration and asylum tell similar stories. Here are the data for “nonwestern” immigrants during a similar period:


And asylum claims, which generate the most anger because unproductive immigrants unwilling to assimilate soak the welfare system as their progeny prepare to take over, show the same pattern:


So immigration and asylum fell substantially as this decade unfolded. The conclusion I draw from this is that, at least for one country, the threat to social stability from immigration (while far from over) has probably peaked. To be sure, it is only one country; some, like Denmark, have become even more vigilant about immigration, while others, like Sweden, have yet to do much to limit immigration or promote assimilation. But evidence from several countries across western Europe indicates that the flood of refugees is on the wane, and while the population balance among ethnic groups continues to tilt, it is not occurring as rapidly as before. Talk of Amsterdam becoming majority Muslim by 2015, as Daniel Pipes asserts today, or European countries ceasing to be recognizably European, seem excessive.

The two confounding factors are lower birth rates of and emigration by the natives. Here are data for population of Dutch nationals (including those of foreign background, since Statistics Netherlands doesn’t break this group out) between 20 and 30 years old:


This is quite a substantial decline, 18.4% in only 11 years, although it appears to have halted by 2003. Emigration of 20-30 year olds does show a rise, although the numbers are fairly small:


Matching up 2006 emigration with 2005 total population for this age group means that about six Dutch in 1000 of that age group are leaving each year. Given that these are the parents of future Dutch, and given that they probably self-select for ambition, risk-taking and creativity (and perhaps away from comfort with nonwhite immigrants), this is a problem, although not a civilization-threatening one. That emigration is still on the rise despite alleged economic recovery in Europe is also disconcerting.

In short, I suspect that the threat of Europe being remade in undesirable ways by immigration, which I have written about here and here, may have crested. Not through the sort of apocalyptic violence Ralph Peters has predicted in a famously overwrought way here, but through the simple act of cracking down harshly on immigration. As long as illegal immigration is also controlled and the immigrants and their children either assimilate or come most of the way down to native-level fertility (neither a sure thing), disaster will probably be avoided. But the economic impact of Europe’s emigration of the young, if Holland is in any way typical, is a potential area of concern.

Lord Keynes, whose skill with the language was always better than his economics, is supposed to have said (although it is not to be found in my Bartlett’s) that “when the facts change, I change my views. What do you do?” Immigration waves in some countries have crested, fertility rates in France, Sweden and elsewhere are rising too much to be entirely accounted for (given the proportion of those groups in the population) by differential fertility rates for nonindigenous groups, and few countries are currently in catastrophically low fertility of 1.5 or less (and most of those in eastern Europe). And so I have changed my views, at least in part, since I last wrote on this. Note though that this says nothing about Europe's economic woes, or its looming welfare-state catastrophe, which I think are still major, perhaps fatal challenges.

For a dissenting view on these demographic questions, listen to Mark Steyn promote the paperback release of his still extraordinary America Alone on Milt Rosenberg’s Extension 720, a show I had the honor of appearing on myself, with nerves that will be obvious to the listener, once.



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