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.

Housing Discrimination and Immigration: Singapore

Few things are more amazing to Z Geography than the seeming uptick in xenophobia and racism in much of the world (to include the United States). What is particularly striking is the overt and public outpouring of these sentiments – from signs explaining what language to order in to, apparently, rental listings listing undesirable ethnic groups. To Z Geography, the growth of globalization/glocalization has reinforced nativist and xenophobic attitudes – from Russia, to Singapore, to the United States.

The BBC published a story on owners of rental units in Singapore restricting tenants based on ethnicity, specifically Indians and Chinese (or in the parlance of the internet, Indians/PRCs). One, of course, wonders if the restriction applies to citizens of Taiwan. It probably does, as the article details even persons of Indian or Chinese descent from western countries are viewed with suspicion. To be sure, this is not official discrimination but entirely personal. Of course, this sort of outright racism is not limited to Singapore – last October, an anonymous poster to a social media site in Norfolk, VA posted that black trick-or-treaters (Halloween was upcoming) would not be welcome in a (predominantly, one assumes) neighborhood.

As the BBC reports Singapore’s population is ethnically diverse: 74% Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indian, and 3% other. The interesting point though is that in this small southeast Asian state, 90% of people own their homes, which probably makes the population somewhat sensitive to housing prices. And this is the justification for overt racism – no Indians or Chinese because “many don’t clean weekly, and they do heavy cooking… They may use a lot of spices that release smells that people don’t like.” On the other hand, another source related that some owners would be less willingly to lease to Chinese and Indian immigrants because they are viewed as less likely to maintain the property. That sentiment, taken on its own, “less likely to maintain a property” seems reasonable to me – it is the addition of the ethnicity factor that makes the statement preposterous.

Also similar to the United States is Singapore’s separation of the public and private spheres. In both states, racial harmony and multi-identity societies are well-entrenched in public life (at least on the surface). However, the state’s views end at the private door step. There’s an obvious disconnect here between the stated public utopia and the grim reality of the private citizen. In Singapore this was thrown into stark contrast in December when foreign workers from South Asia rioted after a bus accident resulted in the death of an Indian national. Online, the saga sparked condemnation of racism in the country and criticisms of foreign workers.

We should also be rooting these anecdotes into the deepening globalization of society. But not only are foreign workers migrating in larger numbers to new places for employment, they are also sparking a glocalization movement (global-local). This movement, a reaction, is also understood as natvist. The receiving community not only engages the global community, but also reinforces its own sense of local identity. In the context of Singapore, “Singapore” is resisting the influence of immigrant Indian and Chinese communities. Obviously, Singapore isn’t the only country doing this.

Going forward, Z Geography expects to see a combination of growing support for foreign workers in Singapore as well as stiffening resistance to their presence. Whilst this will be primarily discussed within Parliament of Singapore, violent flareups – like last December’s riot – are more than likely.

A New “Russian” Internationalism: a (very) early hypothesis

Last week Z Geography examined the interim Ukrainian government’s and Russian government’s narratives of the ongoing conflict over eastern Ukraine (here). In that post, I recounted Russia’s stated objective of protecting the interests of “Russian-speakers” in Ukraine. In this post, I hypothesize that Russia may be adjusting its definition of Russian to include eastern Slavic languages – including Ukrainian.

This presupposes though that Russian is all that different from Ukrainian. It is apparently not, sifting through the sources in the all-popular Wikipedia, we find three academic sources (see note classification 8 on the Ukrainian language page). The first states that among the Slavonic languages (to include Russian and Ukrainian)  “[The] distinction between dialect and language being blurred, there can be no unanimity on this issue in all instances…” And the distinction is very blurry, consider the second definition of dialect from the Random House dictionary: “a provincial, rural, or socially distinct variety of a language that differs from the standard language, especially when considered as substandard.” Language, as some sociologists might argue, may be socially, culturally, and politically appointed. Take the dominance of French in France – as captured nicely in The Discovery of France (Graham Robb). We often take French as the principal language of that political construct called France, but it wasn’t until long after the French Revolution (and the patois are making a comeback).

But I digress. Ukrainian and Russian “have very high rates of mutual intelligibility…The separation of Russian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian as distinct languages is relatively recent…Many Ukrainians in fact speak a mixture of Ukrainian and Russian, finding it difficult to keep the two languages apart…”, according to a source in 1981. As the Wikipedia article notes of a Ukrainian-language source comparing lexicons, Ukrainian is closest to Belarusian (84%), Polish (70%), Serbo-Croatian (68%), Slovak (66%), and Russian (62%). In 1977, a peer-reviewed study asserted that “In terms of immediate mutual intelligibility, the East Slavic zone is a single language.”

Percent of Ukrainian speakers (Purple) and Russian speakers (Blue) in 1989 (lighter) and 2001 (darker) by province

This mutual intelligibility, however, was not sufficient to prevent Russian elites within the Soviet Union from suppressing the language, because it could have become a rallying point for Ukrainian nationalism. A renewed Ukrainian national identity would have been a significant divergence from, and a threat to, the Soviet Union’s internationalist communist/Stalinist identity.

So here’s the hypothesis, could Putin’s (Russia’s) expansionism be fit under the rubric of a more inclusive, internationalist “Russian” (Slavic) identity. The test for this hypothesis will be the remaining years (decades) of President Putin’s rein – will Russia content itself with Crimea and a limited “Russian-speakers only” vision, or will it seek to unite other Eastern Slavic speakers under an enlarging “Russia”? To the ongoing Ukrainian crisis, this identity shift (to pan-“Russian”) would imply that not only could Ukraine’s east be absorbed, but the entire country. If this hypothesis is true, the conflict may resemble the wars of unification in the 1860s (Germany) and 1880s (Italy).

The German case is particularly instructive. Prussia in establishing the Second Reich ignored the German-speaking (at least the elites) of Austria in order to maintain Prussian supremacy in the German empire. Today this curious quirk of political geography is linguistically explained by the existence of “varieties of German.” Consider the map below, how nice that German-German and Austrian-German end at a political boundary! In the current Ukraine-Russia crisis, Russia could leave the west of Ukraine as a rump state.

“Varieties” of German (via Wikipedia)

Competing Narratives in Ukraine

The conflict narratives prevailing in eastern Ukraine obscure the likely “ground truth” at the center of the conflict. Russia’s and Ukraine’s press releases and official commentary are political statements; statements that contain elements of truth bent towards justifying (or legitimizing) certain political actions. Geographically, these narratives center on eastern Ukraine and its people. With the start of Ukrainian military action in the east, the critical factor is which identity the eastern Ukrainians emphasize – are they primarily cultural Ukrainians? Or Russian speakers? The answer to this question will have repercussions for the rest of Ukraine.

note: this post draws on information from a useful BBC report (here).

For Russia the conflict is about protecting the interests of Russian-speakers in Ukraine, specifically eastern Ukraine at the moment. As the BBC observes, most of these Russian-speakers are “ethnic Ukrainians”. This unhelpful phrase is probably meant to convey that these communities of individuals are “culturally Ukrainian”. Ethnic groups, like nations, are an imagined community; a community often based on: 1) culture, 2) language, 3) religion, et cetera. This seemingly minor details carries important weight – first, a person’s identity has multiple faces. An individual living in Donetsk is probably, at once a Russian-speaker who consider herself Ukrainian. Perhaps next door neighbor, similar in all respects, considers themselves Russian. In the Russian narrative, Putin aims to protect both groups, Russian-speaking cultural Russians and Russian-speaking cultural Ukrainians from Ukrainian-speaking government oppressing this group from Kiev.

For Ukraine the conflict is about maintaining territorial cohesion and its cultural identity. The government argues that Russia sparked the unrest in the east, insinuating that these problems occurred at foreign behest; moreover, it has labelled the pro-Russia groups as “terrorists.” Kiev’s argument is that Ukraine is a country for cultural Ukrainians, whether they speak Russian or Ukrainian. Unsurprisingly given this position, it has wholly dismissed the demands of the pro-Russia group, marking them as illegitimate.

Taken together, the conflict is about two competing nation/state narratives – a Russia seeking to assert itself abroad as the protector of Russian-speakers worldwide and a Ukraine seeking to maintain its identity as the abode of cultural Ukrainians. The problem, of course, is what the Ukrainian-passport holders (i.e. the official Ukrainian public) consider themselves. As the BBC article notes, many people in the east are angry with a government in Kiev that see is dominated by politicians from the central and western oblasts. Further, they believe that the interim government has simply appointed oligarchs as governors, similarly corrupt individuals from Yanukovich’s tenure. Besides the international community, the Ukrainian and Russian governments are also attempting to influence these locals – labeling pro-Russia groups as “terrorists” and advocating the defense of “Russian speakers.”

With the Ukrainian military undertaking an “anti-terrorism” operation in the country’s east – the government risks pushing the resident cultural Ukrainians, who have a legitimate gripe with the government – poor representation and corruption, into the waiting arms of Russia. This risk would grow even more likely, and dangerous, should the operation negatively impact local residents. By prompting local Ukrainians to switch allegiance, Kiev would ultimately be challenging its own identity – is Ukraine for cultural Ukrainians, regardless of language or is the vision much more limited a state only for Ukrainian-speaking cultural Ukrainians in the west and central oblasts? If the latter is the case, what happens to the Hungarians, Poles, and Romanian speakers?


The CIA’s World Factbook also illustrates the religious aspect of Ukrainian identity, although it the data is only provided a the countrywide-level.

Of 44.2 million estimated Ukrainian citizens:

  • 67% speak Ukrainian
  • 24% speak Russian
  • 9% speak other languages (including Polish, Romanian, and Hungarian)
  • 50% practice Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate)
  • 26% practice Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate)
  • 8% practice Ukrainian Greek Catholic
  • 7% practice Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox

According to its Wikipedia page, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is primarily located in eastern Ukraine. The other two Ukrainian Orthodox churches are mostly located in the west and center.