The Demography Rules
Aging and low fertility rates are making it an absolute necessity for Europe to attract more migration from the emerging world. But instead of taking an alarmist stance on the inevitable growth of its foreign-born population and on losing its identity, the European community should better bet on assimilating immigrants and developing a citizenship model based on who people are, not where they have come from, Jack A. Goldstone tells the Gaidar Forum in Moscow.
There is a lot of anxiety in Europe about immigration. Much of it has to do with concerns that migrants are coming from very different cultures, such as an Islamic culture, and that this will change the values, the laws, and family structures in Europe. Such concerns lead to what has been coined as ‘Islamophobia’ in the EU – a fear of Islamic influence and Muslim immigrants – as people are frightened by what is different.
However, there are arguments that the real reason for concern in Europe is not the growth of the Muslim population, which at least in the short term will be moderate. The real problem is the shrinking and aging of the European population.
In fact, part of the reason for Europeans’ anxiety about immigration is that Europe is not used to being a place that people move to. Since Columbus led a party of three boats across the Atlantic to the New World roughly 500 years ago, Europeans have been moving outward and settling new lands – in the Americas, Australasia and Africa. However, in just the last 30 years, in one generation, this flow has reversed. For the first time in living memory, many more people are moving into Europe than are moving out.
The numbers here are quite striking. For example, the Muslim population in such countries as the Netherlands, Germany and France has grown by a factor of four, six or even ten over the last 30 years. Europe thus very quickly moved from having hardly any resident Muslim population to having a significant minority, such that you can see evidence of the Muslim community everywhere. And so the growth may seem to be ‘Oh my God, they are going to swallow us up.’
In fact, the growth is now slowing down for several reasons. One is that you can’t grow quite as rapidly once you have a larger base. But, in addition, the fertility rate of Muslims around the world is going down. And in particular, when immigrants come to countries of low fertility, they tend to adapt to the lower fertility typical of the country into which they are moving. Thus, although the Muslim population in Europe is going to keep growing substantially in the medium term, and will likely double in such countries as Sweden or the UK by 2030, as projected by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Muslims in the population even in these countries will remain under 10% of the total population.
In other European states the growth is expected to be much more modest. As a whole, the Muslim section of the population in Europe over the next 20 years will increase from roughly 6% today to
8 to 10%.
In fact, part of the reason for Europeans’ anxiety about immigration is that Europe is not used to being a place that people move to. Since Columbus led a party of three boats across the Atlantic to the New World roughly 500 years ago, Europeans have been moving outward and settling new lands – in the Americas, Australasia and Africa. However, in just the last 30 years, in one generation, this flow has reversed. For the first time in living memory, many more people are moving into Europe than are moving out. The Muslim population in such countries as the Netherlands, Germany and France has grown by a factor of four, six or even ten over the last 30 years
But the growth of the Muslim population is only a part of a much broader movement into and across European borders, as people are also coming from non-Muslim parts of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and East Asia. And, in particular, there is a huge migration from the newly admitted EU countries into Western Europe.
Another issue here is that the indigenous population of Europe is shrinking. In particular, Europe is facing a demographic dip in the younger age group. So with no migration, by 2061 the group of persons aged 15-39 with a national background will decrease to about 50-60 million from roughly 140 million, as projected by Eurostat. That is almost a two-thirds reduction. The main reason for this is a very sharp contraction in fertility in a number of European countries, to the point where a European woman does not have two but closer to 1.2–1.4 children on average. Moreover, their children are showing no signs of changing that pattern, as they are also having very few kids. If not reversed in two or three generations, the trend will inevitably lead us to a sharp drop in the labor force in Europe. And if you combine this low fertility with the growing number of immigrants, you are going to have a very high percentage of foreign-born people.
That said, what Europe has to really worry about is that a quickly aging and shrinking population will require higher migration so that the local economy and the pension system are not overwhelmed by a very large number of elderly people and too few workers.
Thus the real problem for European countries is that inevitably they are bound to become like the US, with a very large number of foreign-born residents. And they are going to face a question as to whether they want those foreign-born residents to become citizens.
Europeans could answer this question negatively, as they have in the past, and say that their identity is a matter of our blood, our nationality, our culture, our sacred diet. Those things that make us Germans, or French, or Italian or Spanish are things that come down across generations. And that therefore it will not be possible to survive as a country with so many foreigners, so let us put up barriers for migrants.
But their demography is such that unless there is a big change, unless every country all of a sudden decides to have more children – at least two or three instead of one or none – Europe is going to face an absolute necessity for more migration. So it will have to decide whether it can establish – as the US has done – a community of citizens based on common values rather than on a common background.
There is no reason to think this problem shouldn’t be solved, as most of the world seems to be attracted by European values, such as liberty, democracy, the rule of law, accountability, and the freedom to choose a career and where you live. So I hope Europeans will rediscover the importance of these values and will develop a citizenship based on who people are, not where they have come from, because dealing with many more people coming from different places is going to be inevitable.
Jack A. Goldstone (PhD, Harvard) is Virginia E. and John T. Hazel, Jr. Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University, and head of the International Laboratory for Political Demography and Macrosociological Dynamics at Moscow’s RANEPA.