Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Demography and Islam in Europe

Razib recommended this post by Randy McDonald as a must-read a while back, but I've only just found the time to sit down and read it; it really is excellent, as Razib said it was. Most importantly, it serves as a healthy reality-check on some of the more extreme doomsday scenarios being bandied about with regards to Islamic immigration in the context of a Europe in demographic decline. McDonald gives useful references to information suggesting that France's Muslim immigrants are indeed acculturating to the norms of their new homeland in many respects, even if the rate of acculturation isn't necessarily as rapid as might be desired. No, Chicken Littles, the sky is not falling, and "Eurabia" isn't a likely prospect at any point in our lifetimes.

In fact, one problem that McDonald's problem helps to highlight is that fertility rates are also dropping quickly throughout the rest of the world, even in those poorer regions Europe's aging populations might have hoped to rely on as sources of youthful immigrant labor. That much of the Arab world is fast approaching below-replacement rate levels of fertility doesn't mean that immigration will necessarily decline from that region, much less cease altogether (as the wave of Eastern European migrants towards Britain is currently demonstrating), but it does portend that immigration cannot be relied on as a long-term solution to the impending demographic crisis, which is, in my view, largely avoidable, provided one is willing to adopt a more realistic attitude.

The truth of the matter is that men, throughout their existence on this earth, have had to work for the entirety of their lifetimes, and the notion of a world in which the elderly spend 20 to 30 of their years doing nothing but collecting paychecks, watching television and playing golf is one that simply isn't arithmetically sustainable when virtually everyone can expect to live to enjoy such an extended period of leisure. There is no good reason why adults in decent health and with their mental faculties mostly intact should be expected or required to retire at 65, 70 or some other arbitrary age, and I'd even argue that it is probably harmful for the well-being of most people to be left to idleness in such a manner. There may be the odd occupation where advancing old age mandates a retreat from the frontline - no one wants to be operated on by a surgeon whose hands shake - but for the most part, today's jobs require little by way of physical strength or endurance, and 75-year olds in good health are just as suited as 25-year olds to sit behind desks poring over bits of paper, and probably better suited, given the increased patience and capacity for reflection that (usually) comes with much life-experience.

One final point I'd like to make, albeit one tangential to the main thrust of this post: those who would like to argue that America is at threat from an alleged Mexican "reconquista" have some serious explaining to do, in light of the sharp and still continuing drop in Mexican fertility rates. Even on the ridiculous assumption that every last Mexican below the age of 40 decided to cross the Rio Grande and settle in the United States, and, what is more, was successful in realizing that assumption, the low fertility of the average Mexican female would make any scenario of a predominantly Chicano America far-fetched in the extreme. America will become a less "white" country than it is today, but it isn't about to turn into Mexico's Northern March anywhere except in the fervid imaginings of racist paranoids.