Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Follow-Up on Fertility Rates

A commenter on France Vs. United States post argued that the high fertility rates in France reflect the propensity of Muslims to have more children, and that the fertility rate of non-Muslim women is shockingly low. This is one of those great urban myths of the right, peddled by scare-mongers like Mark Steyn (who simply does not understand statistics, by the way). The truth is a lot more complex. In the words of Jean-Michel Charpin, Director of the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) "the fertility rate among France's immigrant population was slightly higher than among the population at large, but said the difference was minimal".

The logic of Steyn goes like this:

"Which country has the healthiest fertility rate? France. Which country has the most Muslims? France. Which country has the second healthiest fertility rate on the western end of the Continent? Denmark.Which country has the second largest proportion of Muslims? Denmark. Get the picture?"

Actually, Steyn does not "get the picture" at all. Reviewing Steyn's book predicting the demographic inevitability of an Islamic takeover of Europe, Johann Hari notes that "he offers no statistics on the European Muslim birthrate". Hmm, no statistics to back up the central contention of his book? Sounds a little like truthiness to me! How delightfully Bushite in approach!

Let's again appeal to OECD statistics (the most recent statistics in OECD's Society at a Glance: OECD Social Indicators - 2006 Edition). Here are some fertility statistics:
  • United States 2.01
  • Ireland 1.97
  • Iceland1.93
  • New Zealand 1.90
  • France 1.89
  • Australia 1.75
  • Norway 1.75
  • Netherlands 1.73
  • Denmark 1.72
  • Finland 1.72
  • Sweden 1.65
  • United Kingdom 1.64
  • Luxembourg 1.63
  • Belgium 1.62
  • Canada 1.52
  • Portugal 1.47
  • Austria 1.40
  • Switzerland 1.40
  • Japan 1.32
  • Germany 1.31
  • Italy 1.26
  • Greece 1.25
  • Spain 1.25
  • Korea 1.17

Now, wedged in between the United States and France lie Ireland, Iceland, and New Zealand. I don't see Muslim immigration as driving fertility in these countries! Look at the next best countries on the list-- the Nordics like Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Why is fertility so high in this part of the world? Well, it actually has a lot to do with the much-maligned welfare state, at least in its Nordic incarnation. A few years back, Joƫlle Sleebos, at the OECD looked into the statistical determinants of fertility. The first thing she noticed was that there was a gap between actual and desired fertility, as families wanted the "two child norm". This divergence, despite the mocking tones of Steyn and others, reflects economic considerations. Accordingly, policies that make childrearing less costly tend to raise fertility. Such policies include subsidized childcare, generous maternity and paternity leave, and family-friendly finetuning of the tax-benefit system. Not surprisingly, the Nordics have come the furthest on these grounds, while the Mediterranean countries lag.

Note that Steyn looks at his non-facts and concludes the opposite:

"The state has gradually annexed all the responsibilities of adulthood - healthcare, childcare, care of the elderly - the point that it's effectively severed its citizens from humanity's primal instincts, not least the survival instinct."

This is totally backwards, and a good example of ideology trumping fact.

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