April 27, 2009
Population Changes in Europe
— Martin E. Marty
In hours I'll be boarding a plane for secular Europe, in particular secular France, and most particularly, secular Paris. Mixing business and pleasure, I'll be doing some accidental research, namely, observing and taking mental notes on areas familiar to me from past scholarship. One of the delights of travel and scholarly work and play is this: One can be surprised. My surpriser-in-advance this week is Martin Walker, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, and director of the A. T. Kearney Global Business Policy Council. He publishes his startler in the Spring 2009 Wilson Quarterly. His goal: To shatter myths or to revise opinions about population change in Europe.
"Everyone knows," from the Pope all the way down to sociologists, statisticians, and ethnographers, that Western Europe is emptying out of "our kind" of people because of drastically low birth rates and filling up "their kind" from the Middle East and Africa. Daily we receive new impressions of resulting tensions and conflict. The impressions may be accurate, but do they represent the whole story, or the most current trends? No, says Walker, using data the Global Business Policy Council is turning up. He writes: "Something has happened to the world's birthrates. Defying predictions of demographic decline, northern Europeans have started having more babies." His gripe is that "sensationalist headlines soon become common wisdom," with the result that "bastardization of knowledge" lodges misrepresentative and misleading assumptions into peoples' minds. The first such assumption is that the demographic change "is transforming the ethnic, cultural, and religious identity of the continent." A second is that the leftover old-Europeans keep getting older, and their demographic cannot sustain the burden of supporting the young. A third is that the population growth worldwide will continue to be high. Walker cites newspaper columns and reports which feed the three wrongly-measured trends.
Of course, the most noted feature of the change is the growth of Muslim Europe, portending, some say, "the Islamization of the continent." We can't go into testing the statistics on the basis of which Walker generalizes; for our purposes, it is the measure of religion and its future that attracts attention. Population growth, Walker notes, is still dramatic in the thirty least developed countries, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. "One striking implication of this growth is that there will be a great religious revolution, as Africa becomes the home of monotheism." By mid-century, Islam in Africa will dwarf the Muslim presence in the Middle East. By 2025 there will be as many Christians in sub-Saharan Africa-some 640 million-as in South America, and "by 2050 it is almost certain that most of the world's Christians will live in Africa."
John Mbiti, the famed Kenyan scholar, says "Bye, bye" to Geneva, Rome, Athens, Paris, London, and New York as Christian centers. Look to Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, and Manila. I'll skip his China and Russia to report on the next surprise: "Perhaps the most striking fact about the demographic transformation now unfolding is that it is going to make the world look a lot more like Europe." Why? It's producing aged people in unprecedented numbers. In 1998, for the first time "the number of people in the developed world over the age of sixty outnumbered those below the age of fifteen." By 2047, the world as a whole will reach the same point. In short, "The world has changed." More and faster change is coming. If Walker is accurate, most of us will be doing a good deal of revising.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.