Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On the lumpiness of nations and migrations and the importance of details

Over at the Middle East/North Africa-focused blog 'Aqoul, Matthew Hogan has an interesting post ("Class Demographics Explain Better MENA/Muslim Integration in USA?") that makes the point that comparisons between the levels of integration enjoyed or not enjoyed by Muslims in the United States and Europe are owing at least as much to the characteristics of the migrants as to the policies and attitudes of the receiving countries.

While I do enjoy a nice dose of American exceptionalism, and I do think it may apply here in some ways, let me nevertheless throw out a less nationalistic hypothesis on relative integration levels. I am too lazy and busy to find and crunch the appropriate numbers and surveys to confirm or refute it, but here it is: Could some of the relatively better Muslim/MENA integration in America be simply due to the fact that Muslim immigrants there have tended towards the educated professional and middle class, rather than being a large class of laborers as may be the case in lots of Europe?

Immigration-engendered social stress induced by large numbers of peasants coming up from the south is in the USA an issue associated with Mexican, and not Muslim and/or MENA, immigration. (There is no religious identity or practice fault-line, however, related to USA Mexican migration because Mexicans are typically Christians. The historic Catholic-Protestant divides of yesteryear's America and Greater Anglo-Saxonia have long since faded into insignificance.)

But on the issue of Mexican immigration, there is alot of overlap with European-type fears of Muslim/MENA immigration - namely the deeper fears engendered by the preceived phenomenon of lots-and-lots-of-brown-people-who-look-talk-and-act-funny-and-are-sucking-down-our-welfare-and-still-speaking-their-language-and-not doing-stuff-our-way.

But that type of fear may be less active where immigrants are more educated or entrepreneurial, thereby speaking the language well and living in (and selling to) mainstream communities. They also interact more frequently with different groups in the workplace. Such relative interaction seems to be the case of Muslim immigrants to the USA, many of whom came here to get an education and a profession, or start wholesale or retail-oriented businesses. They don’t manifest the isolation levels of MENA/Muslim immigrants in Europe, or Mexicans in North America for that matter.

Is this at all surprising?

National populations don't exhibit uniform demographic behaviours, with these instead varying according to such factors as ethnicity, region, class, or religion--East Germany within Germany is a perfect example of this. Migration is a notoriously "lumpy" phenomenon, depending critically on all manner of formal and informal links between sending and receiving areas, links which don't exist in the same way for different populations. One-third of the Mexican-born population in the United States was born in three west-central Mexican states (Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán) where only 15% of the Mexican population lives. A wildly disproportionate share of Japan's emigrants have come from the Ryukyu Islands, centered on Okinawa, virtually an independent state until the late 19th century. A disproportionate number of the Atlantic Canadian province of New Brunswick's Francophones (and perhaps Francophones elsewhere in Atlantic Canada) move to Québec. And yes, a disproportionate number of the immigrants to the United States from Muslim countries were professionals, while European countries which received immigrants explicitly recruited immigrants for unskilled labour.

When you're talking about population trends, it's very important to take note of the details. Without the details, any conclusions one might hope to reach will necessarily be flawed.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Prospects for future migration from Mexico to the US

Future migration to the US from Mexico is likely to be an insignificant factor in US government spending on benefit programs and US labor markets. This is because Mexico has gone through the demographic transition like many developed countries, moving from high birth and death rates to low birth and death rates as it developed from a pre-industrial to an industrialized economic system. The pool of potential migrants is simply not increasing fast enough relative to population and economic growth in the US.

According to the Population Reference Bureau, Mexico’s estimated population in 2009 was about 110 million persons. The rate of natural increase is at 1.6%, and the country’s total fertility rate is 2.3 (which is only slightly higher than that of the USA at 2.1). The country’s population is projected to increase to 129.0 million by 2050; while the population of the USA is projected to increase from 306.8 million in 2009 to 439.0 million by 2050. The US absolute population increase could be six times that of Mexico, between now and 2050.

If hypothetically one quarter of the Mexican population increase, or 5 million persons were to migrate to the US that would be an insignificant number compared to the projected US increase of 131 million persons

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Vojvodina's ethnic homogenization as a 21st century paradigm

Over at Balkan Insight, Tim Judah's article "Vojvodina’s Ageing Minorities Stare Extinction in The Face" provided an interesting examination about how the fourth stage of the demographic transition is leading to the disappearance of some relatively well-established ethnolinguistic minorities.

Puffing, panting and yelping in Romanian, six men are expertly dancing around three ping-pong tables. Watching intently are several more men, most of them greying and balding. There is not a woman is in sight. Perhaps they are preparing the feast to follow at which large quantities of alcohol are to be consumed. It has been a happy day for the Romanian community in Serbia, one of Vojvodina’s rapidly dying ethnic minorities.

Vojvodina is Serbia’s northern province. “Until now, we were proud to say that we had 28 nationalities here,” says Branislav Djurdjev, a demographer at Novi Sad university, “but demographic developments will destroy that.”

In the grand sweep of history Vojvodina is no stranger to population shifts. But today, as the Balkan wars of the 1990s fade into memory, few realise the dramatic nature of the demographic changes that have taken place in Vojvodina in the last two decades – and which are continuing.

Nicu Ciobanu, director of Libertatea, Serbia’s Romanian language newspaper, is proud that this is the 52nd annual ping-pong contest that his paper is sponsoring. But how many more will the newspaper be able to stage in years to come? This year’s contest is being held in the gym of the school in the village of Alibunar. Between the two world wars, about 75 per cent of the some 3,500 people who lived in Alibunar were ethnic Romanians. Now, of a population of around 3,400, only 28 per cent are Romanians. The rest are mostly Serbs.

A few steps from the school stand two white churches. Unusually for the Balkans, or indeed anywhere else, they stand side by side and are built in the same classic Vojvodina style. One is the Serbian Orthodox church while the other belongs to the Romanian Orthodox. Inside the Romanian church, chandeliers have been lowered and plastic sheeting placed over precious objects, while the church is alive to the sound of “pftt, pftt” as elderly ladies spray cleaning fluid on everything that needs polishing. The church is being prepared for an important saint’s day.

Overseeing the work is the priest, Fr Ionel Malaimare. Over the road, in the little community hall, tables have been laid for the meal that will follow the saint’s day service. On the walls are pictures dating back decades, recording generations of Romanian choirs of Alibunar. According to the census of 2002, there were 30,419 Romanians in Vojvodina, but back in 1910 there were 75,233. Numbers have been falling ever since. Ominously, for the first time, there is not a single child this year in the first year Romanian-language class in Alibunar’s school.

The most important thing to keep in mind in regards to the self-governing Serbian province of Vojvodina, located in the north of Serbia and bordering on Croatia, Hungary, and Romania, is tgat it has become increasingly Serb by population. Wikipedia's summary of the demographic history of Vojvodina is as accurate as anybody's. Over the period from 1880 to 2002, the region's population grew from 1.1 million to a bit over two million, but the region's Serb population has grown from four hundred thousand (35.5%) to 1.3 million (65%).

How did this shift happen? Ethnic cleansing certainly helped, but so did economics.

Before the Second World War, [. . .] only half of Vrsac’s population was Serbian while the rest were mainly Germans and Hungarians. Today barely 100 Germans remain. The 1931 census recorded 343,000 Germans in Vojvodina. After the end of the Second World War and the Communist takeover, they were driven out, fled, or died in camps. The new authorities colonised the province with almost a quarter-of-a-million Serbs, mainly from Bosnia, and others from other parts of Yugoslavia. In this way they greatly increased the proportion of Serbs in Vojvodina whilst also creating new minority communities, such as Macedonians and Montenegrins.

These Macedonian and Montenegrin immigrants, it's worth noting, are ethnically similar to the Serbs.

Additionally, while the initial resettlement of formerly German lands in Vojvodina may have been planned colonization, the province was also prosperous enough to attract economic migrants. Throughout the Communist era, Vojvodina's GDP per capita was not much lower than Croatia's and perhaps a fifth higher than that of Serbia proper, placing the province clearly in the rich "north" of the country. GDP per capita crashed over the 1990s, relative to Vojvodina's non-warring neighbours and absolutely thanks to sanctions and economic collapse, relative to Slovenia, never mind absolute GDP per capita, crashed over the 1990s, but Vojvodina still retained its income advantage over the rest of Serbia. This, along with Vojvodina's proximity to Croatia and Bosnia, encouraged the influx of ethnically Serb refugees that help boost Serb numbers even as non-Serb numbers fell.

The wars of the 1990s further accentuated the Serbian presence in Vojvodina. According to Tomislav Zigmanov, director of the Vojvodina Croatian Cultural Institute who lives in Subotica, 35,000 to 40,000 ethnic Croats left or were driven out of Vojvodina in the 1990s. The exact number is hard to pin down because some Vojvodina Croats have in the past declared themselves as Yugoslavs in censuses or as Bunjevci, another minority, close to the Croats.

The 2002 census recorded only 56,546 Croats in Vojvodina, well down on the figure a decade earlier, and that number will certainly be less in the next census in 2011. These people “feel abandoned”, says Zigmanov. Too small and cowed to exert any political influence in Serbia, he says they are looked at askance in Croatia. “It feels like we are punished for living in Serbia,” he says.

Geocurrents noted in a January 2010 blog post that ethnic Serbs now form a solid majority over most of the province, the only real exception apart from some scattered rural enclaves being a pocket of Hugnarians in the north-central region, next to Vojvodina. I suspect that rural enclaves populated by ethnic minorities integrated into a majority-dominated society won't resist assimilation for very long, not that emigration from a region that's now one of the poorest in th Balkans mightn't be attractive for ethnic minorities with options elsewhere.

Like the young people from the other minorities who gravitate towards their “motherland”, young Croats in Vojvodina are also leaving for Croatia. Zigmanov cites several telling statistics. According to a recent poll, he says, 70 per cent of students at Belgrade University said they would not want a Croat as a roommate. It is hardly surprising, then, that an equal percentage of Croatian students from Vojvodina prefer to go to university in Croatia and don’t come back.

Until the end of the First World War, Vojvodina was part of the Kingdom of Hungary and Hungarians are still the province’s largest minority. But their numbers are falling fast also. In 1948 there were 428,932 Hungarians in Vojvodina.

In 1991 that number was down to 340,946 and by 2002 there were only 290,207. In Backa Topola, a depressed northern town with a majority Hungarian population, “anyone who has enough brains runs away”, says Janos Hadzsy, a local journalist. Amongst that number are his own two children who have gone to Hungary.

Fears by Serbian nationalists that Vojvodina will secede are certainly false, if not ridiculous. Vojvodina has never been more Serb by population than it is now, and there's every reason to think that it won't become increasingly Serb. Croats also speak Serbo-Croatian; Romanians, Macedonians, and Montenegrins are also Orthodox Christians; Slovaks and Ruthese are Slavs; Hungarians (and others) don't have to move very far if they want to live in substantially stabler and more prosperous countries. Couple the relative ease of assimilation and dsiproportionately heavy emigration among minorities with fertility rates substantially below replacement levels--Roma constitute the only significant exception, but they're a small minority as yet and marginal besides--and despite Vojvodina's political autonomy the province is going to be increasingly ethnically homogeneous.

I mention the example of Vojvodina partly because it's interesting in its own right--the homogenization of the Yugoslav republics and provinces that began in the post-war era and accelerated during the ethnic cleansings of the 1990s is still ongoing--and partly because it's an example that will become increasingly relevant in other areas in other countries advanced in the demographic transition with their own multicultural traditions. In the Volga-Urals region of Russia, for instance, where any number of Finnic and Turkic minorities co-exist alongside ethnic Russians, living alongside their co-citizens, most often speaking Russian in public life and migrating from their rural heartlands and intermarrying, will many of these ethnic minorities persist? In the main extra-European countries of mass immigration--in places like Argentina and Canada and Australia--will intermarriage and assimilation and migration continue to wear away ethnic diversity on the ground, other groups meeting the fates of the Welsh of Patagonia and the Ukrainians of Saskatchewan and the Germans of South Australia, perhaps more urban groups of newer vintage? Et cetera. There will certainly be new waves of immigrants to all these regions, but with the sorts of factors that operate in Vojvodina, could the fate of the new immigrant-borne cultures possibly be any different?

The world of the fourth demographic transition is likely to be a rather more ethnically and linguistically homogeneous one, methinks.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A few Friday links

Today's my day for links-writing, I suppose, but in my defense I've got quite a lot of good ones!

  • Continuing yesterday's United Arab Emirates theme, rising immigration and the advance of the demographic transition among Emiratis is projected to diminish the Emirati share of the UAE's population from 20 to 15% over the next two decades.

  • Immigration and high birth rates mean that Sweden's population is projected to reach 10 million in 2021.

  • Birth rates in Wales are rising, straining existing maternity and childcare services.

  • Birth rates in the United States fell by 2% in 2008, perhaps because of the economic crash.

  • Immigration has helped boost South Korea's population by a half-million, significantly more than projections had indicated.

  • Despite a very low birthrate, and ongoing depopulation in its northern regions, Romania's population is projected to be fairly young by European standards in 2030.

  • Some 13% of Maliens have emigrated from their country, most living in neighbouring nations like Côte d'Ivoire but with substantial contingents in Europe, especially France.

  • In French, the Canadian Press notes that Québec's birth rate has reached new highs, with nearly 89 thousand births this year, although the fertility rate has remained stable, with the population expected to reach some 9 million.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A brief note on the politics of replacement and planned migration

Replacement migration is a controversial idea, as a thought experiment as much as a serious policy proposal. Immigration into countries and regions with shrinking workforces and aging populations can help manage the economic problems associated with the fourth demographic transition, but as at least one observer noted it's unrealistic to imagine that the very high volumes of immigration assumed under these scenarios will ever come to pass, indeed that--as I wrote in relation to Sweden a while back--that the immigrants will even come, never mind come in the right numbers, which are themselves almost impossible to imagine.

Demographic theory, and numerous simulations, have already shown that immigration cannot compensate for population ageing except with flows so large as to hugely increase population growth and rapidly replace the existing population with a foreign one – ‘replacement migration’ indeed. Immigration is impotent to stop ageing because the average age of immigrants is little lower than that of the natives, and while immigrants from the third world initially have higher birth rates, these are expected to decline. Instead, immigrants themselves age and ‘need’ more immigrants to replace them.

The UN has succeeded in showing dramatically that the demographic characteristics of the very low fertility countries must change if they are to end up with an economically sustainable age-structure. It is also right that up to the medium term, reductions in ‘native’ working-age entrants are inevitable in some countries, and could not be effected by increases in birth rates for 20 years. But its simple-minded mechanistic projections go too boldly into an unknown future, and its one-sided prescriptions send the impossible in hot pursuit of the merely implausible. In diverting its considerable talents to sensational demographic scenarios the UN has missed an opportunity to consider the problem in a broader and more useful context.

(The title of the above essay--"‘Replacement Migration’, or why everyone’s going to have to live in Korea"--refers to the fact that, in the scenario for South Korea, roughly the entire population of the Earth would have to move to South Korea in order to keep that country's dependency ratio at 2000 levels.)

The only sovereign states where the sorts of very high ratios of immigrants to the native population produced by these scenarios are located on the shiores of the Persian Gulf, in the smaller member-states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, where oil-driven economic growth combined with severe shortages in labour--especially but not only skilled labour--to produce massive inwards migration, as detailed here.

From World War II to the October 1973 War, the Gulf States went through a process of wealth accumulation. Rising demand for oil in the world economy matched by rising supply from the Gulf translated into rising oil ‘rent’. High income was transformed into material welfare for natives through the recruitment of foreign workers that would produce national wealth while allowing nationals to largely stand out of the labour market.

The demand for manpower was then commensurate with the potential supply from the Arab Middle East, which became typically divided between two sorts of countries: those with human capital and population surpluses and those with oil and c financial capital surpluses. Labour migration from population-rich to capital-rich Arab countries was regarded by Pan-Arabism as the best way to cross-fertilise the two disconnected assets of the Arab world, i.e. population and capital. Migration was viewed as a strategy to build the Arab nation.

The war of October 1973 opened a second stage of migration to the Gulf. With oil prices soaring, Gulf rulers could launch ambitious programmes of economic construction. A new economic culture emerged and governments understood that oil wealth is transient and must be used to build a strong post-oil economy. They started to construct large-scale modern infrastructures and plants. Because the ultimate goal was to adapt to the local reality - a weak demography combined with a strong wish to preserve identity - mobilising capital was the objective, not creating permanent employment. Capital-intensive rather than labour-intensive industries were chosen.

The construction of infrastructures and plants, however, created large numbers of short-term jobs. Gulf governments opted for turnkey plants ordered to foreign societies that would hire themselves their workers abroad. Asians started to outnumber Arab workers. According to some scholars, substituting Asians to Arabs was also a means to address political concerns: because Arab migrants share a language and a culture with the local society, they are more susceptible than Asians to voice and to defend their workers’ interests. This would have clashed with Gulf rulers’ strategy of importing labour while avoiding the formation of a working class.

Dual societies were gradually born, in which nationals and foreigners were separated de facto (e.g. world lowest levels of economic activity among nationals vs. world highest among non-nationals) as well as de jure (e.g. the obligation for every foreigner to have a local sponsor). During this second, stage migration became the most popular topic among Arab social scientists. The debate was then revolving around issues of regional integration and whether migration reduces or accentuates economic inequalities between countries, and around issues of identity and whether Asian migration would make Arabs a minority in the richest part of their nation and therefore challenge the ideal of that nation.

A third stage started with the 1990-1991 Gulf War and is characterized by the will to construct society, beyond economy. It was triggered by Kuwait being invaded from outside, poorly defended from inside and eventually rescued by an external coalition. The war had an immediate impact on migration as it resulted in three million legal immigrants forced to leave their host countries. Several Arab communities were particularly targeted: Palestinians in Kuwait, Egyptians in Iraq and Yemenis in Saudi Arabia, for the reason that they bore the wrong nationality and found themselves residing in what had become overnight the opposite camp.

Political lessons were also drawn. The war was an occasion for major oil countries to reassess their vision of labour and to adopt policies of ‘gulfization’ of the workforce. The context was the economic crisis that followed the Gulf war. Not only it had not produced any escalation in oil prices comparable to that of October 1973, but the reconstruction bill was astronomical and to be paid with cheap oil. For the first time, young nationals in the Gulf found themselves confronted with a drop in purchasing power and the emergence of unemployment. Immigrants started to be viewed as competitors and indigenising employment became a stake. One after the other, Gulf States adopted gulfization policies along two lines: on one side, reducing the supply of migrant workforce by reinforcing barriers at entry and stay, and on the other limiting the demand for migrant workers by expanding the list of jobs kept for nationals and taxing employers who hire non-nationals. Gulfization policies have had mitigated results and labour markets dependency on migrant workers is still at its peak.

As Noel Maurer, occasional commenter, noted in one of a series of posts, the political economy of these immigrant-receiving states--Dubai, actually, but that's arguably prototypical of the Gulf model--is certainly not permeable, allowing migrants into the national community.

The Dubai government charges fees for labor permits, but doesn’t view them as a source of income. The upside for Dubai is obvious. Production and construction costs are more like Shanghai than Seattle. Firms can recruit in a global labor market, and offer salary premiums to skilled workers over what they would get in London or Paris without raising their own labor costs. The resulting growth creates a wonderful cycle: since firms in many industries like to near other firms in the same industry, growth begats growth, and the owners of Dubai real estate (e.g., the ruling family) make a boatload of money.

It gets better. First, Dubai doesn’t pay the costs of educating all those workers; nor does it have to worry about their retirement. They come, do what they do, then go home. Governments in places like the Republic of the Philippines or the United Kingdom subsidized their education and will handle their old age. Second, the labor force drops in downturns. No worries about the social cost of unemployment. For example, the Indian embassy to the UAE reported that 20,000 seats on flights to India had been “bulk-booked” by Dubai employers for March 2010. The workers are flown out the same day they get fired because, in the words of a British construction site manager, “a lot of them commit suicide and we don’t want that on our hands.”

The age pyramid's hugely distorted, biased towards working-age men, as a result of this.

Will the age pyramid be evened out, as immigrants are allowed to bring their families over or form their own families in Dubai? I doubt that; with only 17% of its population being United Arab Emirate nationals and a powerless labour force, the odds of change in the majority's favour barring something radical are trivial.

There are many, many examples of countries where mass immigration has been entirely compatible with permeable citizenship regimes and pluralistic policies. Argentina, as Wikipedia suggests, was transformed.

Most immigrants arrived through the port of Buenos Aires and stayed in the capital or within Buenos Aires Province, as it still happens today. In 1895, immigrants accounted for 52% of the population in the Capital, and 31% in the province of Buenos Aires (some provinces of the littoral, such as Santa Fe, had about 40%, and the Patagonian provinces about 50%). In 1914, before World War I caused many European immigrants to return to their homeland in order to join the respective armies, the overall rate of foreign-born population reached its peak, almost 30%.

Yes, Argentina has had its problems, but its problems have related to its economic structure, not with the origins of its population. I could also bring to you the example of my Toronto, where nearly half of its population was born outside the country but nonetheless lives in a prosperous city in a prosperous country.

Those of you reading this blog know that, by in large, I've been supportive of free migration regimes. I've only been supportive of them in the context of relatively permeable citizenship regimes in pluralistic polities, however. One thing that proponents of the replacement migration that's been talked about over the past decade, or the similar planned migration, have to be very, very conscious of, in my opinion, is the risk of seeing immigrants not as people but as work units, as disposable entities providing useful services to the indigenes but unworthy of admission to the community or of fair treatment. The Dubai model has its flaws which surely should not be replicated.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

On the new wave of Icelandic emigrants

Marc Preel's AFP article doesn't say anything particularly surprising about one of the consequences of Iceland's spectacular economic collapse.

Anna Margret Bjoernsdottir never thought she would be forced to leave her once wealthy homeland, but after 18 months of economic upheaval she has decided to join the biggest emigration wave from Iceland in more than a century.

"I just don't see any future here. There isn't going to be any future in this country for the next 20 years, everything is going backwards," lamented the 46-year-old single mother, who plans to move to Norway in June.

The former real estate agent who lost her job when Iceland's housing market disintegrated two years ago said she feared she could soon be forced out of her large house in Mosfellsbaer, some 15 kilometres (nine miles) from Reykjavik.

"I don't want to sell it," she said, vowing to "fight to keep" the comfortable wooden dwelling she, her daughter Olavia, their cat Isolde Tinna and their dog Candit the Bandit have called home since 2004.

Bjoernsdottir is not alone in planning to leave Iceland's economic mess behind and seek a new future abroad. Most people in Reykjavik have someone in their surroundings who has already packed their bags and left.

Emigration has rapidly picked up speed since the Atlantic island nation's economy crumbled in late 2008, dragged down by the collapse of its major banks. Last year it marked the largest exodus from the country since 1887.

In 2009, more than 10,600 people left the country of fewer than 320,000 inhabitants, according to official statistics, with 4,835 more people moving away than immigrating.

Foreign workers, mainly Poles, who since the beginning of the decade had been drawn to Iceland's financial miracle, were the first to leave.

But Icelanders like Bjoernsdottir have not been far behind, most heading to the country's still prosperous Nordic neighbours, especially Norway.

"I don't think I can offer a good future to my daughter Olavia" in Iceland, Bjoernsdottir said.

Like many other Icelanders who have seen their worlds collapse since the financial turmoil began, Bjoernsdottir's predicament stems from the decision, on advice from her banker, to take up a loan in foreign currency.

Repayments on her loan, in yens and Swiss francs, became insurmountable after the Icelandic krona nose-dived following the banking sector implosion.

"My loans are twice as high as they were," she said, shaking her head in disgust. "The payments keep going higher and higher, so I have to leave, I'm forced to!"

Bjoernsdottir lost her job in real estate at the end of 2008 as the crisis hammered Iceland's economy. Since then she has picked up temporary teaching work, but that position also disappeared last September.

Analysts expect Iceland's beleaguered economy to stabilise in 2010, but gross domestic product shrank 6.5 percent last year.

As Statistics Iceland's March 2010 report notes, the Icelandic population shrunk by 1% between 1 January 2010 and 1 January 2009, this despite a rate of natural increase of 1%. The outlying areas of Iceland, away from the west and especially the capital of Reykjavik, saw the sharpest declines. Looking to the labour market, GDP per capita has traditionally been quite high because of the peculiar characteristics of Iceland's economy, where low productivity is compensated for by very high rates of labour force participation and long working hours. Although, as Statistics Iceland notes, labour force participation and working hours remain quite high by First World standards, and unemployment is still relatively low, by historical standards there's an abundance of labouyr. Given the continuing economic uncertainties, why not emigrate?

Where are these Icelandic emigrants going? Some authorities in Manitoba have flattered themselves by assuming that the substantial late 19th century New Iceland settlement in their province will attract a second wave of Icelandic immigrants. Much more likely is a movement to Europe, the reverse of the migration more than a millennium ago that led to Iceland's settlement in the first place. Icelanders have had the opportunity to move en masse for a long time thanks to the Nordic Passport Union, formally founded in 1952, joined by Iceland in 1965, and fused with the Schengen Area in 2001. Norway seems to be favoured, partly because of the traditionally close cultural and historical relationship between the two countries, partly because its economy is still quite strong, partly because the country's still close enough to enable a certain sort of commuting.

Other victims of Iceland's financial woes have ended up with one foot in and the other out of the country.

Svanbjoern Einarsson, a 44-year-old father of three, says he is trapped in the country due to an unsellable house that he does not want to abandon.

Instead, the engineer has chosen to work for six-week stretches in Norway's oil capital Stavanger on the western coast, with occasional one- or two-week breaks home with his family.

"It's very difficult. When I work I forget about it, but in the evening it's very tough," he said.

Long-term, however, he acknowledged his future may be in Norway, not Iceland.

It's important not to exaggerate things. Recent migration statistics do indicate that, although nearly five thousand people did leave the country, a bit under half of them were foreign citizens, recent immigrants. Iceland's immigrant population has exploded, migrants attracted by high living standards and the economy's demand for labour, growing from almost 2 700 people (1.9% of the population) in 1950 to 4 800 (1.9% of the population) in 1990, to, shooting up hugely over the 1990s, almost 7 300 (2.6% of the population) in 2000 and more than tripling to 23 400 people (7.4% of the population) in 2008, just before the crash. 1 500 of the foreigners who left Iceland in 2009 were Poles who--like others--were attracted to a prosperous economy desperately needing labourers and would likely have been among the first to leave, given the precedent of Polish migration to the United Kingdom and Ireland. The return of migrant workers to their home countries is a perfectly normal phenomenon.

That still leaves many Icelanders who did leave, and given the scope of Iceland's economic problems and the opportunities for Icelandic professionals, it's not unreasonable to imagine that unless things sharply improve, and soon, the country could face serious brain drain. Will Iceland make it? Small island societies, by virtue of their small size and their consequent dependence on larger external partners, have almost always produced relatively quite large numbers of emigrants. Iceland was such a society before; it might become such again.

Baby boom narrative flawed

If you examine this chart of US birthrates created by Calculated Risk based on data from the US NCHS, you should notice that there was a spike in the rate during the WWII years; it goes up between 1939 and 1943, then drops again briefly before beginning the surge frequently referred to as the “baby boom”. A lot of press and marketing have been generated hyping the “baby boom”. This data calls into question the whole “Boomer” narrative…given that the surge in births started 10 years before the approximate start of the “baby boom”.