It is often assumed that the triumph of liberalism is assured because liberally-minded societies embrace the future, while other cultures cling to the past. But what does ‘embracing the future’ actually mean?
The most powerful and literal way of doing so is to have children. The messy, self-sacrificing business of birth and parenthood may be a bad fit for the radical individualism of our age, but even radical individuals have to replace themselves or die out.
The idea of demographics as destiny is a problematic one, with some distinctly unpleasant associations. And yet we can’t close our eyes to the implications of historically low birthrates in countries like Germany and Japan.
There’s another remarkable example – that of Bulgaria. It features in an article for Quartz by Jake Flanagin. The piece is mainly about the Roma (or Romany) people, who are Europe’s largest ethnic minority. It contains the following demographic projection:
“Bulgaria will be, in effect, a Roma country by the middle of this century. By 2050, the population of ethnic Bulgarians is expected to shrink to 800,000, while the number of Bulgarian Roma is expected to crest 3.5 million.”
Can this really be true? Ethnic Bulgarians currently account for over 80 per cent of the country’s population, so how can such a major transformation (or anything close to it) take place in such a short period?
Birth rates provide a big part of the answer. According to a paper published by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, the total fertility rate (i.e. the average of number of children born to each woman) among the Bulgarian Roma population is 3.0. This is above the replacement level of 2.1, but not especially high (for instance, it’s comparable to the overall UK birth rate in the 1960s). However, among ethnic Bulgarians the TFR is just 1.1 – a level at which each successive generation is not much more than half the size of its predecessor.
Jake Flanagin is surely right to argue that Europe needs to massively improve educational and employment prospects among its Roma minorities – because in some countries the minority is on course to become the majority (at least among new recruits to the workforce).
Another example of rapid demographic change is the Amish population of the United States. One might imagine that a strict religious group that not only rejects the morals of modern world, but much of its technology too, is doomed to long-term decline and eventual extinction. However, research undertaken by Ohio State University paints a very different picture:
“A new census of the Amish population in the United States estimates that a new Amish community is founded, on average, about every 3 ½ weeks, and shows that more than 60 percent of all existing Amish settlements have been founded since 1990.
“This pattern suggests the Amish are growing more rapidly than most other religions in the United States, researchers say. Unlike other religious groups, however, the growth is not driven by converts joining the faith, but instead can be attributed to large families and high rates of baptism.”
The original Amish population was very small, numbering just a few thousand. But by doubling every generation or so, it is now set to exceed “1 million…and 1,000 settlements shortly after 2050.” At this level, they are certain to become the majority population in a number of US counties.
Of course, liberalism is an idea not an ethnicity. Convinced of the attractiveness of their values and lifestyles, liberals assume that modernity will trump maternity by attracting new recruits from other cultures. However, what the Amish demonstrate is that this isn’t inevitable.
Though it may be less ‘sophisticated’, a culture that makes room for children has every chance of surviving one that doesn’t.