Monday, June 08, 2009

Go read "The World's New Numbers"

I'd like to point people to the latest article of The Wilson Quarterly, which includes Martin Walker's article "The World's New Numbers,", as sober an analysis as any of global population trends and their implications.

Walker's article is quite busy. After debunking the Eurabia thesis--"European" fertility rates are higher than Eurabianists say and Muslim fertility rates tend to converge to national levels after two generations--Walker goes on to discuss the implications of Iran's sub-replacement fertility, the ongoing shift upwards of fertility across western and northern Europe, the relatively moderate population declines in central Europe, the frightening collapses of populations the former Soviet Union. In regards to Russia in particular, Walker concludes that Russia's membership in the BRIC group, at least insofar as it's a powerful emergent economy, is tenuous thanks to its hypermortality.

Walker's more sanguine about the prospects for European welfare states; given certain adjustments, like raising the retirement age of 60 to much higher levels and increasing the work force participation rates, they could even survive. It's not, Walker argues, as if Europe hasn't gone through this before.

[T]he total depen­d­ency ratios of the 21st century are going to look remarkably similar to those of the 1960s. In the United States, the most onerous year for dependency was 1965, when there were 95 dependents for every 100 adults between the ages of 20 and 64. That occurred be­cause “dependents” includes people both younger and older than working age. By 2002, there were only 49 dependents for every 100 ­working-­age Americans. By 2025 there are projected to be 80, still well below the peak of 1965. The difference is that while most dependents in the 1960s were young, with their working and saving and contributing lives ahead of them, most of the dependents of 2009 are older, with more dependency still to come. But the point is clear: There is nothing outlandish about having almost as many dependents as working ­adults.

Walker also makes the interesting observation that exceptionally rapid population growth in sub-Saharan Africa will shift the demographic centers of Islam and Christianity towards that region of the world.

One striking implication of this growth is that there will be a great religious revolution, as Africa becomes the home of monotheism. By ­midcen­tury, sub-Saharan Africa is likely to be the demographic center of Islam, home to as many Muslims as Asia and to far more than inhabit the Middle East. The ­non-­Arab Muslim countries of ­Africa—­Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Senegal—constitute the one region of the Islamic world where birthrates remain high. In several of these countries, the average woman will have upward of five children in her lifetime.

Christianity will also feel the effects of Africa’s growth. By 2025, there will be as many Christians in ­sub-­Saharan ­Africa—­some 640 ­million—­as in South America. By 2050, it is almost certain that most of the world’s Christians will live in Africa. As Kenyan scholar John Mbiti writes, “The centers of the church’s universality [are] no longer in Geneva, Rome, Athens, Paris, London, New York, but Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, and Manila.”

(Buenos Aires has little much in common with the other four cities, the demographics of the city and wider Argentina not to mention the culture being rather more like those of the North Atlantic than not, but let's let that pass.)

This article is really quite a good one, the sort of article that should be required reading for anyone interested in population trends. I encourage our readers to head over to the Wilson Centre website and take a look.


Anonymous said...

Russia had about 12.1 births/1,000 population in 2008. Isn't that on the upper end for a European country? Close to France, which had 12.91 per 1,000 for that year. Although Russia has an abnormally high death rate (much higher than France) would not the seemingly solid birth rate reduce its long turn population loss compared to other Eastern European countries?

Can Russia sustain this birth rate or is it a temporary blip?

Edward Hugh said...


"Russia had about 12.1 births/1,000 population in 2008. Isn't that on the upper end for a European country?"

No. Not at all. This is simply a statistical accident, produced by the shape of the population pyramid, and having a lot of women at child bearing ages. The crude birth rate is not a reliable measure of fertility.

The Tfr is now at around 1.4. Tfr may not be perfect, but it is a much better indicator, since it measures not how many women are in reproductive ages, but how many of those women are having children.

Undoubtedly Russian fertility has risen during the economic boom years. Now we need to see what happens during the downturn.

Russia's demographic outlook is pretty bleak.