Thursday, 10 February 2011

Europe and the culture of death

Oscar Wilde once said "you can survive anything, except death". That might be true for individuals, but nations operate under a different maxim. Nations can survive anything except a sustained decline in fertility.

In Europe, Italy is the poster child for catastrophic demographics. For every 8 births, there are now almost 11 departures. The Italian population would be rapidly shrinking were it not for migration. Two of those dearly departed Italians have been replaced by migrants. Even with migration, the Italian population has slowly begun to shrink.

I recently received a comment questioning whether declining birth rates and ageing populations were a bad thing. "More resources for the rest of us" sums up the gist of the argument.

Don't count on that. Resources tend to gravitate to the most productive economies. Countries with ageing populations are unlikely to be well positioned to compete in the increasingly globalized economy.

However, this isn't what really bothers me about the worsening population demographics in Europe. There is something much more disturbing behind that chart. These numbers reek of despair. Italians, and Europeans generally, can not be bothered to defer sufficient current income to ensure that there are enough offspring to maintain current population size.

It can not be a lack of resources preventing procreation. Apart from the odd famine and plague, Europeans had no problem producing children in previous centuries when incomes were lower. As any teenage mum will tell you, children are extraordinarily robust, and can thrive in the most adverse environments. Moreover, children aren't as bothered by poverty as adults might think.

In cultural terms, a society that can not reproduce itself is in a very dark place. This is why I have absolutely no time for Europeans whingeing about migration. Europeans have collectively decided to vacate the continent. Europe has literally lost the will to survive. If that is the decision of the majority, then we will all have to tag along for the ride.

Procreation takes sacrifice. It has rewards too, but it means spending money on others. Europeans, for the most part, don't want to do it. They would rather avoid changing diapers, waking up in the middle of the night to placate a crying baby, cutting back on expenditures to ensure that the kids have piano lessons.

This might sound a little melodramatic. Nevertheless, it is important to focus on European fertility rates. Forget about what people tell you, look at what they do. Europeans don't produce children.

Look at that chart again. In Italy death is more popular than birth. This culture of death is obscured by the arrival of migrants. To which I say we should welcome them. For they appear to be less selfish and less despairing than the current residents of the continent


Herr Gonk said...

Need to return to patriarchy then, I guess.

Anonymous said...

So your idea of a future is 'standing room only'?

Laban said...

People are more than just units of production, otherwise Yemen and Burkina Faso would be global powerhouses. There's culture, too - as well as (average) innate abilities. If we're aborting 200,000 Brits a year, replacing them with 200,000 Somalis, the effect will not be the same as if we'd not aborted those kids.

Anonymous said...

It has been a familiar pattern that industrial economies in their earlier stages of development not only increasing birth rates, but also falling death rates. When the economy begins to mature the birth rate seems to fall. Ultimately this leads to a falling population. In Great Britain the birth rate began to fall in the 1870s. I do not believe that we were visited by some giant devastation because of this phenomena.

I would suggest that it is not a falling population that is a problem, which may be nothing more than mean reversion, but society's reaction to it.

Hunter-gatherer societies had large numbers of grand parents, because of their healthy diet. In these societies grand parents looked after the children, whilst the parents were hunting and gathering. Contemporary Asian families, in particular Chinese, are used to this pattern.

When agriculture developed age expectancy declined presumably because of the monotonous diet and grand parents disappeared.

I would suggest that the problem in Japan and Europe is the sclerotic nature of their societies in their inability to adjust to this or any other development without referring to a tramline mode of thinking.

chefdave said...

Our economic environment isn't conducive to childbirth, imo it's really that simple. How are those in their 20's supposed to start families when their wages barely cover their own living costs? The sensible ones weigh up the pros and cons and decide that it's financially inviable, so that only leaves the chavs and 3rd world immigrants who are quite happy living below the poverty line on state handouts (probably working cash in hand too).

We could frame this as a problem associated with selfish Westerners, but I believe it's social problem, in particular it's the byproduct of a rentier society where honest workers are squeezed until the pips squeak.

Who would want to raise kids under those conditions?

Mark Wadsworth said...

I think Chefdave hits the nail there, it's not just selfishness, it's the 'squeezed middle' (i.e. everybody but chavs and the upper vulture classes) who can't sensibly afford it.

For my part, I've done my bit and had four kids. Out of nosiness, how about you, Alice?

Techno Mystic said...

It may be contrary to first thoughts, but poverty encourages people to have lots of children. The reasons are complex:

- parents anticipate that a certain number of children will die during childhood
- in the absence of a social security system parents want to make sure that there is somebody to look after them when they are old
- the more offspring then the more people can be sent out to work for income
- lack of access to contraception, sex education, and lack of access to other leisure activities apart from procreation

It is well established that prosperity leads to a drop in birth rates. I agree that the prognosis is poor.

aitortxu said...

Interesting comments.
We are surely at a turning point in history which will unfold over the net decades.
An increasing old population with increased health bills to be substained by a few "locals" and a lot of well meaning newcommers will change Europe demographics for good, starting with the south.