Demographic Shifts Are Hitting the Muslim World, Too

And the implications are sobering.

The always interesting David Goldman (aka Spengler) has been writing for years about an approaching demographic collapse in the Muslim world and what he believes to be the likely result. Here he is in 2006:

Aging populations will cause severe discomfort in the United States and extreme pain in Japan and Europe by mid-century. But the same trends will devastate the frail economies of the Islamic world, and likely plunge many countries into social chaos.

By 2050, elderly dependents will comprise nearly a third of the population of some Muslim nations, notably Iran – converging on America’s dependency ratio at mid-century. But it is one thing to face such a problem with America’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $40,000, and quite another to face it with Iran’s per capita GDP of $7,000 – especially given that Iran will stop exporting oil before the population crisis hits. 

The industrial nations face the prospective failure of their pension systems. But what will happen to countries that have no pension system, where traditional society assumes the care of the aged and infirm? In these cases it is traditional society that will break down, horribly and irretrievably so.

Spengler was prompted to revisit the topic again this week, in response to a “wide-eyed” acknowledgement of the Muslim demographic shift by Washington Post journalist David Ignatius:

My 2011 book How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too) assembled evidence that the decline of Islam as a religion explained collapsing fertility, just as the decline of Catholicism explained collapsing fertility in lands once blessed by large families — Spain, Italy, Poland, Ireland, and Quebec. Iran’s total fertility rate plunged to an estimated 1.6% in 2010, barely above Europe’s rate of 1.5 children per female. In 1979, when the Islamists took power in Iran, the average woman bore seven children. Nothing like this sudden snapping shut of the national womb has ever happened before in all of history. And the rest of the Muslim world is headed in the same direction.

“Something really big is under way — and practically no one has noticed it, even in the Arab world,” Ignatius quotes an e-mail from Eberstadt, one of the best conservative economists working today. But I don’t think it is quite accurate to say that “practically no one has noticed it.” On the contrary, Islamist leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been shouting from the rooftops about the trend for the past five years, as my book reports. Excluding the independence-hungry Kurdish minority, Turkey’s fertility rate is probably around 1.5 children per female, about the same as Iran’s, and a guarantee of national decline.

…Iran may be one of the world’s most secular countries; some reports put mosque attendance in the Islamic Republic at just 2%, lower than Church of England attendance. When the odious Islamist regime falls at length, we probably will find that there are as few Muslims in Iran as there were Communists in Russia after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Like other religions rooted in traditional society, for example the nationalist-Catholic faith that Europeans abandoned after the two world wars, Islam cannot abide the onset of modernity. Some forms of religion can flourish in modernity; Islam is not one of them.

Spengler believes this crisis — that of an Islamic “culture in despair” — largely explains the Iranian regime’s frantic push to go nuclear:

Muslim civilization is in catastrophic decline. It is passing from infancy to senescence without ever reaching maturity. Iran has one last bulge generation of military age men, born before the fertility collapse got underway. It perceives one last historic opportunity to achieve Shi’ite dominance. It won’t have another.

…[in my view,] a demographic cataclysm helped explained the apocalyptic mindset of the Iranian leadership, which felt that it had nothing to lose by betting everything on a Shi’ite resurgence under the umbrella of nuclear.

  1. Byron Horatio

    It’s certainly good news. Or rather misery enjoys company. The question is whose population will collapse faster? And in Europe especially, won’t the Islamic immigrant population overtake the Western population before its own birth rates collapse? I agree that the populations will collapse, but not before the damage has been done in Europe and probably not before Iran does something lunatic.

  2. The King Prawn

    Who then, is breeding? Is humanity on the way out?

  3. Judith Levy, Ed.
    C
    The King Prawn: Who then, is breeding? Is humanity on the way out?

    Not everybody equates population decline with the decline of humanity. Check out our own Andrew Stuttaford on this.

  4. Zafar

    As societies get richer they get more peaceful, they get less religious, the status of women rises, and they have less children.  That seems to be the trend in Iran since the revolution (though the status of women thing is locked by a Islamic legal system).  It’s even the trend (glacial) in the Gulf.

    I can’t help thinking that a calmer, more peaceful Iran (with a lower unemployment rate) would be a good thing for everybody.  

    Why the assumption that Ahmadinejad would act to ruin it all by inviting a nuclear holocaust upon his own country?  What’s his motivation to drop a bomb on Tel Aviv, leave alone the hurry?

  5. Valiuth

    I think there is one mistake people make about the demograpphic inversion. If we can no longer support the old they will die off faster thus solving the age buble. If everyone’s populations are shrinking than global parity is maintained. Is it not?

  6. Joe

    Eberstadt’s AEI paper (link button isn’t working – http://www.aei.org/files/2012/03/21/-fertility-decline-in-the-muslim-world-a-veritable-seachange-still-curiously-unnoticed_102606337292.pdf) on this from a couple years ago is interesting. He basically says that the decline in birth rate is due to attitude more than socioeconomic or developmental factors. Attitude and worldview are a lot harder to peg down than development.

    Also, it’s not really a point in his paper, but I think it’s interesting that Shia countries (less so for Iraq and Yemen) have a significantly lower birthrate than Sunni countries. Even within Iran, the highest birthrate province (Baluchistan) is its majority Sunni province.

    I was never able to make it through Olson’s Rise and Decline of Nations, so maybe someone who has can answer this: does he talk about nations whose work force population peaks without ever achieving development? It seems like a peculiar problem.

  7. raycon and lindacon
    Valiuth: I think there is one mistake people make about the demograpphic inversion. If we can no longer support the old they will die off faster thus solving the age buble. If everyone’s populations are shrinking than global parity is maintained. Is it not? · 2 hours ago

    Population parity isn’t the issue.  In third world countries, the economy is primarily agrarian and manual.  This requires a very large young population.  If a farmer doesn’t have a half-dozen boys, then there isn’t the field help required to keep the land from going fallow.  In manufacturing it takes many laborers to accomplish the work of one bulldozer or other machine.  Where do all these young men come from.  Remember, if high volume reproduction is required, there will be few women in the workforce.

    In the productive industrial world, technology replaces the demographic imperative.   And women, liberated from the reproduction demand, virtually double the workforce.  As Stuttaford noted, this is not a decline, this is prosperity in the making.

    Of course, neglected in this analysis is the cultural element. 

    A people freed from labor does not necessarily use it’s freedom to search for meaning or God.

  8. Michael Knudsen

    I’d be curious to hear Mark Steyn’s take on this.

    His books and overall thesis do not posit a Muslim demographic decline. (To be sure, I think his thesis and that of this piece are not mutually exclusive. Either way, the demographics of Europe posit a Muslim future for Britain and others. And the cultural rot/equivocation of the West spells little but wholesale appeasement of the Islamic minorities until they are no longer minorities, and no longer in a position that requires nor seeks cultural appeasement. The victors need not bother with such things.)

     

    It’s heartening to know that our potential Muslim overlords have their own demographic and cultural issues to contend with. I’d just as soon they do so without codying their belief system in Western law. We’ll see in the coming years whether the Western world agrees.

  9. Z in MT

    The issue with Muslim’s in Europe is that although European Muslim birthrate is low it is still higher than the non-Muslim birthrate, so the Muslim population will grow relatively.

    People have been saying that the 21st century will be the Chinese century, but India with its above replacement rate birthrates will quickly exceed China in population and eventually GDP.

  10. epoche

    I cannot understand for the life of me from a secular perspective why one would advocate that the government spend so much on old people who have neither money nor progeny. This is really intergenerational warfare nothing less. 

    Judith Levy, Ed.

    The King Prawn: Who then, is breeding? Is humanity on the way out?

    Not everybody equates population decline with the decline of humanity. Check out our own Andrew Stuttaford on this. · 11 hours ago

  11. epoche

    If the secular perspective is that there are too many people in the world, then w0uldnt the first instinct to be to say that there are too many old people who have already have their fun? The environmental perspective could be that we waste too many resources on old people if that is the route you want to go.