Europe is a dying continent. I say this not as a criticism, but rather as a statement of fact. In Europe, an acute failure to produce the next generation has created a looming demographic crisis.
According to research by both the CIA and the U.N., every single member of the European Union has a birthrate significantly below the replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman. In the CIA World Factbook, Germany had a birthrate of 1.36 children per woman in 2007, and Spain and Italy had birthrates of 1.29. At such low levels of fertility, within 100 years, those three nations would have populations 80 percent lower than they are today. And Germany, Italy and Spain are far from alone: Every single industrialized country in Europe has a birthrate below 1.9 children per woman. The average birthrate of the European Union as a whole is approximately 1.5 children per woman — and that number is artificially inflated by the presence of millions of highly fertile non-European immigrants in the major urban centers of Europe.
Even if one ignores the statistical noise presented by the inclusion of millions of outliers, Europe faces a serious problem. Without a major shift in the current fertility trends, industrialized Europe will see its native population decline by about three-fourths over the 21st century. No civilization has ever recovered from such a population decline, and never before has such a decline been entirely voluntary.
Europeans are not becoming less fertile as a consequence of war, or famine, or disease, but rather as a consequence of their Western, consumerist lifestyles. Some, such as social critic Mark Steyn, have suggested that European civilization is in the middle of committing voluntary demographic suicide, and it’s not hard to see why: A civilization that is producing a tiny succeeding generation and shows no signs of attempting to remedy the problem is violating fundamental Darwinist principles of gene propagation.
There is, of course, a counterargument: Europe’s population has not been declining. In fact, most European nations have shown modest population growth thanks to a huge influx of immigrants from developing nations. Some economists have argued that because the infertility of Europeans is balanced by the high fertility of its immigrants, there will be no noticeable effects from the failure of Caucasians in Europe to produce offspring. If the population as a whole remains stable, the argument goes, economic growth will not be affected, and the European quality of life will likely remain constant. Europe could thus theoretically solve its demographic woes by promoting immigration.
Unfortunately, there are some major holes in that argument. Labor capital is not stable: Native Europeans tend to be highly educated and possess a varied skill set due to Europe’s laudable educational system, while the immigrant populations replacing the native populations are by and large less well educated. Crime levels are also not holding constant, and in Europe there has been an anti-immigrant backlash resulting from the widespread perception that immigrants are responsible for the increase in crime. There is also an 800-pound gorilla in the room: Given present trends, within about a century, Europe will cease to be a white, Christian continent.
No one wants to talk about racial or religious issues, but it merits consideration that the vast majority of immigrants to the European Union are Muslims from North Africa, the Middle East and Turkey. By the year 2150, barring a major shift in either native European fertility rates or immigrant nationality, Europe will be a largely Muslim continent with whites and Christians as minorities composing less than 20 percent of the population. Much of Europe has come to terms with that possibility, but a significant portion of the population is uncomfortable about the prospect of a change in Europe’s continental character, warranting wider spread support for xenophobic political parties across the continent.
Europe is divided as to what to do. While the common plans seems to be to encourage immigration and simply ignore the long run, some nations, especially those without enough immigrants to compensate for the declining fertility of natives, like Russia, have started offering cash incentives to women to have more children. These plans have met with very limited success in societies where raising a child costs a small fortune.
An increasing number of Europeans, however, are demanding change, and are willing to accept a declining population and the consequent economic effects in order to preserve what they see as their heritage. In Amsterdam, women have written editorials decrying the pressure native European women have felt from immigrant communities to cover themselves in public. In France, an extremist xenophobic political party came in second place in the 2002 presidential elections as a result of rising fear about the future of France.
Throughout Europe, proposals to limit immigration from the developing world to highly skilled foreigners have been floated in debate. It seems that Europe has decided that it wants to do something about this perceived problem, but is unwilling to do the one thing that would resolve the long-term demographic situation in a manner that would benefit both native Europeans and immigrants: reproduce.
Trevor Wagener is a freshman in Pierson College.