George Will

Today Europe's population is 725 million. The populations of 14 European nations are declining, and the declines are driven by powerful social values and trends that would be difficult for governments to reverse, were they inclined to try, which they do not seem to be. The growth rates of the populations of the other European nations are at or near zero. So the European population is projected to be 600 million in 2050.

In developed countries, a birthrate of 2.1 children per woman is a replacement rate, producing population stability. Only Albania has that rate. Catholic Ireland's rate is 2.0, but the rates of the Catholic nations of Southern Europe are among Europe's lowest--1.2. The estimated European average is 1.34.

Stein Ringen, an Oxford sociologist, writes that ``without emigration or immigration and with a stable birthrate of 1.5, a population would be reduced to about half in 100 years, and with a birthrate of 1.2 to about 25 percent.'' On those assumptions, Germany's population would shrink from 82 million to fewer than 40 million by the end of the century, and Italy's 57 million to fewer than 20 million.

Ringen acknowledges that population trends can change rapidly and unpredictably. But with the exception of the post-1945 baby boom--before working mothers became the norm--Europe's birthrates were low for most of the last century, and higher rates are unlikely because the ``modern conventions for family life are built around the now firm idea, and economic necessity, of both parents working and earning.''

Economic anemia and further military impotence are probable consequences of Europe's population collapse. Which will trouble some Americans with peculiar political sensibilities.

Americans who are apt to argue that U.S. foreign policy needs constant infusions of legitimacy from the approbation of European governments are also apt to deplore, in the domestic culture wars, Eurocentrism in academic curricula. Such Americans resist the cultural products of Europe's centuries of vitality, but defer to the politics of Europe in its decadence.

Why? Perhaps because yesterday's European culture helped make America what it is, and today's European politics expresses resentment and distrust of what America is. Both sensibilities arise from the distaste of some Americans for America.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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