Europe’s Population Implosion

Much has been said and written about Europe’s fertility rate, the white portion of which is below replacement levels. Here are some clues why this is happening. Compare those stories with an American one, and you can begin to get a sense of the differing values.

James Taranto addressed this in a way in January:

Medical statistics can be tricky: An excellent hospital may have a higher death rate than a mediocre one because of differences in the patient population, with the former treating much harder cases than the latter. That is what seems to have happened here: Kristof has alighted on a statistical artifact of American excellence and misconstrued it as a sign of America’s shortcomings.

Perhaps America’s much-ballyhooed religiosity is also her saving grace in this context, as, despite Roe v. Wade, we are more likely to try to save perinatal infants instead of dumping the baby in the rubbish. Or, as James Taranto points out in “The Roe Effect“, perhaps our religiosity remains because of Roe v. Wade. Who knows?

It is entirely possible, of course, that the European women who discarded those babies did, in fact, endure much emotional anguish. But in the end, their decision was indubitably made easier by the more cavalier attitudes of their postmodern upbringing. I hope it wasn’t quite so easy, of course. I’d hate to think that some woman decided, after carrying a baby nearly to term, that she’d rather not give up the single life, that she’d rather not give up being able to afford items of haute couture or dinners of haute cuisine. In short, I’d hate to think that women who want to live like the girls of Sex and the City would make a decision to bring a baby to term, then give it up all at the last minute just because it’s “inconvenient”. I’d also hate for Europeans to have to resort to the excuse that these women didn’t know any better; wouldn’t that take away their ability to mock the United States for our (admitted) lack of good sex education?

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

25 thoughts on “Europe’s Population Implosion”

  1. While your point is interesting, I would like to see statistics and some sense of European laws. The horror with which these German stories are viewed seems little differenr from the way they would be viewed (and prosecuted) in the United States. Shock, crime are words used; again, shock & grisly in the French article. My impression (and I hope those more familiar with European law could set me right)is this is little different (and little different in reaction) than the case here of a girl delivering her baby in a restroom and returning to the prom dance.

    My impression is that Europeans are uneasy with the extraordinary ease of American abortions and that in general the timid restrictions about which NARAL becomes apoleptic are standard in several European countries. On the other hand (which may support your point), because few of these societies are religious or in other ways see this
    as a moral choice, Europeans exercise less social pressure against abortions. (We tend toward extreme individualism at the same time that we are more religious. Slippery slope arguments are always in the back of our minds.)

  2. I’m sure socialized medicine also has a hand. Look at that poor guy the Brit court just ruled against. All he was asking for was food and water via tube and not to let the drs pull it.

    He lost.

    OJ (Bros Judd) prints a lot of these types of stories.

  3. Europeans marry less often and have sex less often than Americans. That’s why they have less babies, not because babies are dumped or aborted more often.

    Germany doesn’t have the lowest birth rate in Europe, but one factor that it isn’t higher is that a lot of German men refuse to have sex, for various reasons.

    I’m sure socialized medicine also has a hand. Look at that poor guy the Brit court just ruled against. All he was asking for was food and water via tube and not to let the drs pull it.


    that’s a speciality of the British NHS. Doesn’t hapen here.

  4. Demasque, I’m not sure how much sense it makes to suggest that acts of infanticide by obviously mentally disturbed women reflect the values of a certain society. (Is the Houston woman who drowned her children a reflection of American values?)

    As far as abortions in Germany go, here are some facts:
    Under German law, ALL abortions are considered illegal. They are, however, not prosecuted if they take place within certain guidelines.

    Germany actually has the lowest abortion rate in Western Europe (3.6 % between 1992-96). The U.S. had a rate of 29.8% during the same time period. (See the table on this page.) I guess you’re right, Demasque, considering the actual data you really can begin to get a sense of the differing values

  5. “Here are some clues why this is happening”. I’m sorry, but these aren’t clues at all. 9 dead German babies is a crime, but hardly likely to contribute to what you call a population implosion. And 250 stillborn children is also not a clue to why the population is dropping.

    Your introduction of the abortion theme is, frankly, odd. Note that stillborn does NOT mean aborted, so neither of the stories from Germany and France has anything to do with abortion.

    In any event, what evidence do you have that European women have more “cavalier attitudes” thanks to their postmodern upbringing? Any at all?

    I’d also be interested in hearing your views on how postmodernism could explain the fact that Europeans are on average better built, healthier, and live longer than Americans.

    And if you can do all that without being as spiteful and offensive as you were in your original post, that would be an added bonus.


  6. I have been fascinated by the attempts to to explain the differences in fertility rates for years. Why, for instance, should the Gaza strip have one of the highest fertility rates in the world and Sweden have one of the lowest? Objectively, babies in Sweden have far better chances in life.

    I have come to two tentative conclusions on the subject. The first is in broad agreement with part of Demimasque’s argument. Couples with tradional (usually religious) values are more likely to bear children and to cherish them.

    Second, and for this one there is some statistical support, people are less likely to have children if they can rely on the government in old age. (I should add immediately that I have only seen newspaper summaries of the studies, not looked at them myself. I think Nicholas Eberstadt has made this argument, but I could be wrong.)

    So, if Europe wants to raise its birth rate, it should encourage traditional values — and cut future payments to pensioners.

    A Japanese legislator actually proposed making pension payments partly conditional on having children. In other words, a couple that had no children would have to provide for most of their own support in old age. I suspect European countries will be forced to do something like this in the next two decades.

    I’ve have discussed these points from time to time on my site, and expect to come back to them again in the future.

    Oh, and I suspect I am not the only one fascinated by Ralf Goergen’s comment that “a lot of German men refuse to have sex, for various reasons”. I sure would like to see him explain that some time, tastefully, of course.

  7. I really don’t think the instances you cite, while horrific, have much to do with Europe’s population issues. A more likely explanation lies in what is effectively an extension of adolescence into much of prime child-bearing years, at least in biological terms. Take a look at this graph for a more significant issue.

    In Europe, the persistently high unemployment rates, an issue we have discussed at length, are even worse for those just starting out. The difficulty of establishing oneself in a career has a follow-on effect in delays in forming a family.

  8. Jim Miller suggests that people choose to have children primarily based on their religious values. I believe this is correct. I know in my case it is correct. The argument that wealth leads to fewer children is only true if wealth also leads to a decline in traditional religious belief. This is far from universally true, and it may be particularly untrue with regard to Muslims.

    Jim also makes this suggestion: “…people are less likely to have children if they can rely on the government in old age.” I have long suspected this was true, too. The French Economist David Cosandey has this, making the same point. He writes:

    The Self-Imposed Failure of Retirement Systems solves one …[the question]… what is the cause for the falling birth rates that have plagued developed countries since the 1970s? …
    The answer brought about by the book is: the retirement systems – because they are blind to the number of offspring. The generalizing of children-blind pension systems is the main culprit behind the decline in birth rates. Since they do not recognize the citizens’ main contribution to their own retirement (their offspring), these systems have inverted the bottom line of raising children. They have consistently discouraged people to have kids. These biased systems are depopulating whole countries, unwittingly, unknowlingly, while self-destroying… In a later version of The Self-Imposed Failure of Retirement Systems, in 2006 maybe, I shall explain how a similar evolution took place during the Hellenistic period, and hence led to the collapse of the Greek civilization. …
    Biased, children-blind, pension systems have been spreading fast to the intermediary third world, depressing fertility in these countries as well. In the end of the book, I suggest a few solutions to get out of the bottleneck of the children-blind retirement systems, without excluding childless people, without either letting natality explode.

    Unfortunately, Cosandey’s book is only available in French.

  9. Re: Children for old age.

    I seem to recall that family sizes started declining with the decline in family farms as children required more training to make an economic contribution and were less likely to stay near the family long term. Education of women and their ability and desire to autonomously control their own lives and emergent careers must also be a factor. Television has also been cited as a factor.

    Re: Children and wealth

    Does more wealth lead to fewer children (counter intuitive if there is utility to having children) or do fewer children lead to more wealth (at least per capita, working wives too tired, etc)? At a certain point, more children, like non-working wives, become a form of conspicuous consumption, as it were.

    Re: German libido

    Ralf, you’ve got to be kidding on this one. Is there really a statisticly significant difference in coital rates between German and American married couples? Who is the outlier, horny Americans or repressed Germans? Why? Links?

  10. There’s something going on in Europe that’s not going on here…

    Link 1

    Link 2

    Link 3

    Link 4


    Link 6

    Link 7

    Link 8

    Link 9

    Link 10

    That’s just with a 5 minute search on BBC. There are more. These types of articles are occurring far too frequently, and it’s unsettling to me. You just don’t hear of anything like this going on in the United States. In fact you see this kind of devotion to life:

    I know it’s a small sample, but over the years I’ve (admittedly subjectively) noticed a kind of disregard for infants in Europe, like they’re not really people. It’s very disturbing to me.

  11. “…more children, like non-working wives, become a form of conspicuous consumption, as it were.”

    Children are a gift from God and the non-working wife works hard all day taking care of the children she loves.

  12. Via Bros. Judd:

    The French health authorities have discovered the remains of more than 350 stillborn infants and fetuses that were stored illegally in the morgue of a prominent children’s hospital, some for more than two decades, according to health officials.

    The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, described the discovery as being “as surreal as it is illegal.”

    The government has ordered a preliminary investigation into the discovery, at the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Hospital in south Paris, said the minister of health, Xavier Bertrand, describing himself as “enormously shocked….”

    Europeans are what?

    — I’d also be interested in hearing your views on how postmodernism could explain the fact that Europeans are on average better built, healthier, and live longer than Americans.–

    Maybe you kill off your very young, old and infirm sooner than we do?

  13. Pete, I reformatted your links and may have garbled Nos. 2 and 8. The message is clear enough regardless, but feel free to repost them.

  14. Remember all the nah-nah-nahs when Denmark was crowned the tallest people?

    Maybe if they took in as many hispanics and orientals -can’t call them asians cos that includes people of the ME – as we have done and do (proportionally) they might not be as tall as they are?

    Good grief, we’re back to the 1600 naturalist observations of the french as documented by Philippe Roger in his book?

  15. The astonishing thing about the case in France is not the discovery of the fetuses but the comments by another doctor:

    Dr. Guy-Marie Cousin, president of the National Union of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, was incensed at the public uproar. “Aside from eventual dysfunction that the investigation may turn up, I am astonished to see how astonished everyone is,” he said. Research on fetuses, he told Le Monde, was “indispensable both for teaching and for research. Are we condemned to abandon it?”

    You know that this is postmodern thinking when, in the light of such a scandal, an official medical representative is INCENSED that people are outraged.

    If hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, then the unwillingness of such people to even BE hypocritical in their public pronouncements gives a hideous insight into the views of a powerful and influential minority of the population.

  16. If you haven’t followed the link in my son-in-law’s post, you might find it interesting. These are stats for adolescents. For instance, the pregnancy rate in America is about twice that in the rest of the Anglosphere, which is about twice that of the rest of what we think of as Western Europe. (Eyeballing). (Romania and Russia are remarkably – indeed, unbelievably, high and are marked as incomplete records). The same rough pattern follows in abortios (Anglosphere higher than most of Europe, U.S. higher than Anglosphere and Romania/Russia outlier yet higher but based on incomplete data.)

    Actually, some western Rurope figures, unless there is some other explanation, appear to be closer to the U.S. pre-Roe than the present. Keeping these figures in mind the next time we hear about the threatened right to “choice” might help us keep perspective.

    Frankly, while Americans are not crazy about unenforced laws, etc., policies (as in his other link) that lead to the European figures would be ones, I suspect, that the vast majority of Americans (not those holding placards on either side outside the Supreme Court) could get behind. I can understand the position of those who think any abortion is wrong, but I can’t understand people who would not encourage the good even if it wasn’t the perfect.

    (On the other hand, it is difficult to accept the French as model and as model for intimacy, relationships, and sex – well that’s even harder. But these comparisons are ones we need to ponder a bit.)

  17. My daughter is from Russia. Our translator told us since health care is so bad there it is wise to have them when you’re young and healthy.

    And didn’t Russia just close down US-parent adoptions?

  18. Secularism, or socialism?

    The author draws a much stronger relationship between literacy (and education by extension) than secularism.  This stands to reason; educated people are far better able to take advantage of whatever incentives society provides.  If society is socialist and rewards retirement without rewarding the effort required to make it possible, educated people will find the rational actor’s optimum much faster than the ignorant.

    I would argue that societies which desire to reward child-bearing should be careful to limit the incentive to people who are likely to be able to raise productive citizens, preferably by proving themselves to be good examples.  Paying women to have babies and nothing else leads to welfare debacles wherever it is tried.

  19. I made the same point elsewhere nearly 3 years ago.  (Not to say Den Beste is copying me; he’s still one of the most original thinkers out there, but he doesn’t have all the good ideas first. ;-)

  20. These comments are becoming, frankly, fatuous [feel free to delete this comment, since it is obviously going to be offensive].

    “You know that this is postmodern thinking when, in the light of such a scandal, an official medical representative is INCENSED that people are outraged.”

    Are you trying to tell us that American hospitals and research establishments don’t keep foetuses, for the purpose of teaching and learning? Do you actually know what French law may have been broken in this case? Hint: It doesn’t concern the keeping of foetuses per se, which goes on both sides of the Atlantic.

    As for Pete’s list of instances, well words fail me. Since the debate has reached this level, let’s not hold back:

    “An American couple, whose adoptive son from Russia died of starvation, have been on home detention, freed from jail on Aug. 1 on $50,000 property bonds after being charged with manslaughter, first-degree child abuse resulting in death, and reckless endangerment, Itar-Tass reports.”

  21. I have no idea what the US law is, but I would hope that in the wake of an equivalent scandal, that doctors would have the decency to be concerned.

    That he was incensed, and that you are not disturbed by this, tells me more about you and him.

    Legality is not the arbiter of decency.

  22. Someone who deals with medical donations and knows their importance to medicine, and thus to people’s health, is going to be incensed by anything that looks like an ill-informed attack on them.

    A fetus kept in a lab has very different social meanings if it was given as a donation vs. taken without knowledge of the parents.  Further, the researcher who has no involvement with the donation process is right to be upset about anything which could interfere with their ability to treat future patients; the parents who look at the lab and get angry without knowing the specifics are reacting in ignorance and don’t deserve deference (no matter how much political correctness says otherwise).

  23. No, no, NO, engineer-poet, it’s not the program or idea that was flawed, it was the people in charge. Put the proper people in charge and it will work, you’ll see!

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