Demographic Transition: Denmark and (Have More) Sex Ed

(welcome back to Z!)

Demographics (Geography, really) have been in the news a lot lately, so finding a good starting point is difficult. Readers may remember (though it has been some time) that Z Geography has previously discussed the Stage 5 of the Demographic Transition (wherein a country experiences a declining population as birth rates fall below the death rate and net migration isn’t able to make up the difference).

There are two general ways to beat the falling population reality and both involve having more children (obviously). You either 1) incentive or coerce you’re existing national citizenry to have children or 2) you attract new peoples (say migrants) to shore up the population and hope that they have more children (which they typically do).

Denmark, it seems, is choosing the first course. A recent article in the Atlantic notes that sex education in the country was expanded last year to not only discourage teen pregnancy, but also “warning teens about the risks waiting too long to have children.” Presumably the “risks” referred to involve potential complications arising from so-called geriatric pregnancy.

Unlike its eastern Baltic NATO-ally Estonia (which Denmark had political control over in the 16th-17th century), Denmark’s population is not declining. Yet. According to my favorite U.S. government agency’s forecasts (the Census Bureau) Denmark will probably be in population decline by 2050. Estonia is already there. The Scandinavian neighbors Sweden and Norway are in a similar situation to Denmark. Each had an estimated total fertility rate of between 1.8 and 1.9 live births per woman (aged in her child-bearing years). Estonia’s is 1.6 births per woman.

Denmark has some time to figure out the winning policy formula. The problem is – does a winning policy formula exist? In Singapore (current fertility rate 0.8), a self-styled “sex guru” created a “love boat” getaway package in 2003. Spending $580 (U.S.) couples got a cruise, massages, aphrodisiacs, health classes, and other goods and services to put them in the baby-creating mood. Evidently the fertility rate has dropped since then.

Perhaps a more instructive case is the United States. In this country the total fertility rate (of all census respondents) is 1.9 births per woman, which is obviously below the replacement level of 2.1. Yet Census is not projecting a decline in the U.S. population – because of immigration. Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican, South Carolina) said it best in the past couple of weeks (via Politico):

  • [former South Carolina Senator] Strom Thurmond had four kids after age 67. If you’re not willing to do that, we need to come up with a new immigration system.

Whether he intended to or not (giving the Senator the benefit of the doubt here), Sen. Graham hit upon an apparent demographic truth. Given the economic imbalances in the global economic system, immigrants (from economically underdeveloped and often insecure countries) are needed to sustain the population’s of economically advanced and physically secure Western societies (like the U.S. and Denmark).

On this point, Denmark currently does not have a migrant resettlement quota (like the United Kingdom and Ireland) because of an existing exemption in the EU’s asylum policy. However,this may change and Denmark may take some asylees without a quota.

While the immigration “fix” to the demographic problem is easy, the implications are political. Europe was already experiencing a far-right and conservative backlash before the “migrant crisis” came to the fore (though why it wasn’t a crisis during the first 4 years of the Syrian Civil War is beyond the scope of this article). See headline (Jan-2015): Europe’s Anti-Immigrant Parties Stand to Gain Ground in Wake of Paris Attacks (Wall Street Journal). A key statement in the article is this: “Unlike in the U.S. or Canada, ethnicity and national identity remain closely intertwined in Europe. Melding Europe’s Muslim communities, which often are extremely devout, into Europe’s pluralistic, secular society is particularly tricky.” First and unfortunately for the majority of the world’s states – ethnic identity (to include race, language, religion, and other identifying markers) is the leading determinant for the conception of the imagined community – the nation. The U.S. and Canada, founded by immigrants and consistently reshaped by subsequent waves, are different (though angry nativist rhetoric always crops up during economic downturns).

The real catch is the second sentence – the interaction between immigrant communities and the host communities. But it is necessary to make a distinction, labor immigrants (for jobs) typically seek to immigrate and generally stay in the country, making a new life, often inviting family. Refugees are unwilling migrants. Most would probably wish to stay at home, if the home hadn’t been destroyed by a car bomb, a natural disaster, or some other cause of forcible displacement. Historically, migrants and host communities have integrated each other. Each changes (for the better) with each successive generation of children (migrants and hosts) going to school together and playing together. It was only a mere century ago when the Irish “need not apply” to jobs in and around U.S. metropolitan areas. Now Irish heritage is intertwined with American heritage.

A similar process is already at work within Europe, France and UK have experience accepting immigrants from the former colonies but the rest, including Denmark, must get used to the idea of becoming receivers of immigrants from abroad (whereas they were historically emigrants themselves) if they are to maintain population growth.

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