The population of the United States officially passed the 300 million mark in October 2006. The United States is now the third most populous nation in the world, behind China and India. Moreover, the United States is growing faster than any other industrialised country. All analysts agree that America’s demographic dynamism will have enormous geopolitical implications, especially for Europe.
If Demographics is Destiny, Europe Won’t Be Running the 21st Century
Soeren Kern | Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos | November 6, 2006
The population of the United States officially passed the 300 million mark in October 2006. The United States is now the third most populous nation in the world, behind China and India. Moreover, the United States is growing faster than any other industrialised country—in fact, it is virtually the only developed nation expected to grow this century. All analysts agree that America’s demographic dynamism will have enormous geopolitical implications, especially for Europe.
Indeed, as the US population grows at a vibrant pace (it is expected to reach 400 million by 2040), Europe’s population is not only shrinking, it is aging as well. Demographers estimate that by 2030 the United States will have a larger population than all of Europe combined—and the median age in the United States will be around 30, while the median age in Europe will be almost 60. Thus, while the American workforce will be young, entrepreneurial and wealth-generating, Europe will be populated mostly by older people and retirees who will be drawing on state pensions and thus depleting national coffers.
This implies that the stubbornly persistent transatlantic gulf in productivity, innovation and economic output is set to grow even more. For example, although most people think Europe has about the same standard of living as the United States, the reality is that per capita GDP in America is over 30 percent higher than even the most prosperous countries in Europe. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), EU per capita GDP is about US$28,000 while US per capita GDP is more than US$40,000. And the trend is for that gap to expand even further in the decades ahead.
This is partly because Americans and Europeans have a different work ethic: Almost 75 percent of the US population is at work, compared to less than 60 percent in Europe. American workers also put in more hours and are more productive. According to the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, the United States has significantly higher productivity than the European average: US GDP per hour is over 15 percent higher than Europe’s. In fact, the New York-based Conference Board’s Report on Global Productivity notes that Spain and Italy actually had negative productivity growth in 2005!
This transatlantic divergence also extends to job creation. The free-market United States has created almost 60 million new jobs since 1970, while the highly regulated European Union countries have produced only 5 million, most of which are public-sector government jobs. Today, unemployment in Europe is twice as high as in America, even though the United States is in the middle of a cyclical slow-down. Moreover, long-term joblessness is far more common in Europe than it is in the United States: In Europe, some 40 percent of unemployed people have been out of work for over a year, compared with around five percent in the United States.
European attempts to reverse these trends have not been successful. For example, in 2000, the EU launched the “Lisbon Agenda”. This had the aim of making Europe “the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth, with more and better jobs, greater social cohesion and respect for the environment”. But the Lisbon Agenda has not realised its objectives. A major reason for this is the refusal of EU Member States to liberalise their redistributionist economies.
Instead, Europe’s leadership as a knowledge-based economy is being threatened by a massive “brain drain” from Europe to the United States. Indeed, the United States is the preferred destination for migrant scientists, largely because of better research opportunities, better access to leading technologies and higher wages. According to the Tokyo-based Institute of Higher Education’s 2006 Ranking of the World’s Leading Universities, American institutions dominate the top 50 spots, with a few scattered British notables like Cambridge and Oxford. It is not surprising, then, that of the eight 2006 Nobel Prize winners, six are from the United States (Physics, Chemistry, Medicine and Economics). The other two are from Turkey (Literature) and Bangladesh (Peace). There are no European Nobel Laureates in 2006.
But back to the issue of population: How did the United States, which turned 230 years old in July 2006, get so big so quickly? America’s phenomenal growth has been propelled by a combination of economic stability, a relatively high birth rate, longevity and immigration. Indeed, the United States is the largest immigrant-receiving country in the world. Some 50 percent of the 100 million extra Americans are recent immigrants or their descendents, many of them from Latin America.
Europe, however, is also a magnet for immigration: It is set to attract around 600,000 to 1 million immigrants this year. (In fact, according to the United Nations, about 1.6 million migrants would be required on an annual basis, over the next decades, for ageing Europe to preserve its workforce at current levels.)
So why is the American experience with immigration so different from that of Europe? Part of the reason, as some studies show, is that in Europe, many or most immigrants to the continent end up on welfare, while in the United States, almost all immigrants take one or more entry-level jobs and work their way up the economic ladder. Welfare is simply not the American way.
Moreover, most immigrants to the United States are fully integrated into American society by the second generation, regardless of their country of origin. According to Joel Kotkin, an authority on American economic, political and social trends: “Even if the first generation might feel some tug of the old language and culture, virtually every study of the second generation indicates in-creasing integration into the American mainstream, both linguistically and culturally”.
By contrast, most of the immigrants to Europe are Muslims who are not easily integrated. Indeed, over the past 30 years, Europe’s Muslim population has more than doubled, and its growth rate continues to accelerate. According to data compiled in the US State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, there are almost 25 million Muslims living in Europe today. And instead of assimilating into mainstream European society, Muslim immigrants tend to cluster in marginalised ghettos all across the continent; they make up more than 25 percent of the population of Marseilles, 15 percent of Brussels and Paris, and 10 percent of Amsterdam, for example.
Moreover, demographers predict that the number of Muslims living in Europe may double again by 2015. The US State Department’s Office of European Analysis estimates that Europe will be 20 percent Muslim by 2050, while others predict that one-fourth of France’s population could be Muslim by 2025 and that, if trends continue, Muslims could outnumber non-Muslims in all of western Europe by mid-century. This prompted Princeton University’s Bernard Lewis, one of the world’s most distinguished scholars of the Arab and Islamic cultures, to predict in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt that: “Europe will be Islamic by the end of the century.”
This reality is already influencing European foreign policymaking and does not auger well for the future of transatlantic relations. Indeed, many analysts believe that the steady weakening of Europe is the underlying cause of growing anti-American and anti-Israel bigotry among Europe’s elites, many of whom are eagerly bowing to pressure from Muslim residents in naive attempts to buy fake peace with radical Islamists. Says Fouad Ajami, a well-known authority of the Arab world: “In ways both intended and subliminal, the escape into anti-Americanism is an attempt at false bonding with the peoples of Islam”. Many analysts will point to the Spanish government’s decision to withdraw its troops from Iraq in 2004 as a glaring example of this type of appeasement mentality.
Meanwhile, Europe’s non-Muslim population is shrinking to below replacement levels. Indeed, by 2010, deaths are expected to start outnumbering births in Europe; low birth rates across Europe mean that the number of non-Muslims is projected to decline some 3.5 percent by the end of this decade alone. According to the United Nations publication titled World Population Prospects, Europe’s population will fall by more than 100 million by 2050.
In fact, the Paris-based EU Institute for Security Studies, in its October 2006 report titled The New Global Puzzle: What World for the EU in 2025?, predicts that by 2025, Europe will represent only six percent of the world’s population, and its relative share of global wealth and trade will have shrunk. It goes on the warn that: “the ongoing debate on the future of Europe suffers from a lack of perspective on the global developments that are changing the context of European integration itself…the risk is that the Union and its Member States will be increasingly subject to, rather than agents of, change”.
Some analysts argue that what ails Europe is not primarily a crisis of demography, but rather a crisis of spirit. Michael Novak, a scholar at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute (AEI) writes that in their blind pursuit of reason, secularism and materialism: “European elites have done their withering best to empty Europe of its Christian spirit. They have swept Europe clean just in time for the rapid rise of a rival faith prolific with children, vitality, passion, and confidence in long-term victory”.
Indeed, having removed Judaism and Christianity from European cultural, intellectual and public life over the past century, some observers believe that secular Europeans have fallen headlong into narcissistic selfishness and carefree hedonism. Consequently, they lack the vision of shared endeavour and sacrifice necessary to sustain their own civilisation. Says Novak: a Europe based solely upon a super-rational Enlightenment is one that is “beset with sickness of soul”.
In this context, Europe’s demographic decline reflects a crisis of confidence in the future: The lack of faith not only in tomorrow—but also in God—begets hopelessness. And without hope for the future, one is less likely to want to bring children into the world. Thus if demography is destiny, as Auguste Comte, the nineteenth-century French sociologist, once said, then contemporary Europeans are unleashing a self-perpetuating negative reality that threatens to cast their own civilisation into oblivion.
By contrast, the robust population growth in the United States, unique among rich countries, manifests a strong belief in the collective future of America. In his book titled Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville sought to explain American exceptionalism—the factors that make the United States different from other countries. He pointed to America’s Constitution, its vast expanses of open land, its egalitarianism, its entrepreneurship and its unique spiritual vitality. These factors remain central to American life and demography even today, and also help to explain why the United States, and not Europe, will be running the 21st Century.