Demographics are Destiny
At least, according to author David P. Goldman, aka “Spengler,” they are. During a recent discussion, Goldman — author of the new book, “How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam is Dying Too)” — told me the Muslim world is facing a demographic time bomb.
There are many reasons for the decline in birth rates (less infant mortality, birth control, etc.) — but Goldman argues that post-industrialization, increased literacy rates are the most important factor — precisely because literacy empowers individuals (women especially) to make their own decisions.
Goldman says Turkey and Iran are in especially bad shape — on the verge of a catastrophic demographic spiral, in fact — (ironically?) because they enjoy the highest levels of education in the Muslim world.
“The average Iranian has six or seven brothers or sisters, but will have one or two children,” he says. “That collapse of fertility has never been observed anywhere in history,” he added. For this reason, Goldman predicts Iran’s economy will eventually implode.
Some Americans might naively think less Iranians would be cause to celebrate. But it is worrying for Goldman, because it means these countries have nothing to lose. “People have children because they have faith in the future,” says Goldman.
Increased literacy, Goldman argues, often leads to disintegration of the traditional social structures that naturally encourage higher birth rates. Moreover, literate Iranians are less likely to believe in their regime, and thus, less likely to want to bring the next generation into the world.
Goldman believes that America — despite its prosperity and high literacy rates — has performed better in terms of population growth — precisely because it has remained a fairly religious nation. (Americans are also presumably more optimistic about the future.)
Still, the average American gets married later than they used to, and has less kids than they used to (as Goldman told me, children were once thought of as “cheap farm labor.”)
Writing in this month’s The Atlantic, Kate Bolick correctly notes that, “[M]ore and more of us (women and men), across the economic spectrum, are spending more years of our adult lives unmarried than ever before.” (Obviously, the later one gets married, the less children they are likely to have — a fact of life both here and abroad).
So while the Muslim world may be on a faster demographic collision course, declining population is a serious problem for much of the world. As Goldman argued, this is the first time in history that “the majority of the advanced nations have chosen not to have enough children to be around 100 years from now.”