Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] Why demographic determinism is silly: The Spanish example

Back in July 2003, The Economist warned that "Spain's population may droop from 40m to 37m." The prediction of a 10% decrease was conservative, since another source reported in The Guardian in 1999 claimed that Spain's population might decline by 9 million people by 2050, down from 40 million to 31 or even 30 million. Responsible for this remarkable shrinkage was Spain's very low fertility rate, one of the lowest in the world with only 60% as many children born as needed to sustain the population. The reality of a very low fertility rate leading to rapid aging and eventually net population decline was known for some time, but little seems to have been done to try change things, like (for instance) subsidizing childbearing women heavily as in France or Sweden. The inevitability of a Spanish population set to start shrinking shortly was taken for granted, indeed regularly made a point of political debate, often in ways supporting the poisonous Eurabia meme. As a single example, writing in 2004 Asia Times' Spengler claimed rather ridiculously that "[h]alf a millennium after the Reconquista, when Spanish Catholicism expelled the country's Muslims and Jews, Spain has no choice but to ask the Muslims to return and take possession of its land by stages."

This trend reversed itself quite recently, not because of a baby boom as in France but rather because of an entirely transformed pattern of migration. One of the poorest countries in Cold War non-Communist Europe, well into the 1980s Spain was a major source of immigrants. As Nieves Ortega Pérez wrote in a February 2003 article, "Spain: Forging an Immigration Policy ", at Migration Information, only in the 1990s did Spain--stable and democratic, with a growing and job-hungry First World economy--start to become a major destination for immigrants.

In 2001, resident foreigners in Spain accounted for 2.5 percent of the total population, and saw one of the largest annual increases in their numbers (23.81 percent) in recent years. The biggest communities of resident foreigners were Moroccans (234,937), Ecuadorians (84,699), the British (80,183), Germans (62,506), Colombians (48,710), French (44,798), and Portuguese (42,634). These figures reflect the increasing size of the traditional Moroccan community, as well as the trend of increased immigration from Latin America. The fact that neither of the top two nationalities was an EU country, as had been the case just five years ago, brings Spain more in line with the tradition of immigration from third (i.e. non-EU) countries, a tradition also visible in other European Union countries

The scale of this immigration has grown sharply in the three years since Pérez wrote. At present, the Spanish population has grown at Third World War to reach a total of 44.5 million including 3.7 million immigrants, 8.5% of the population. Although different sources disagree on the national origins of this immigrant population often conflict subtly (1, 2, 3), they agree that there are a half-million each of Moroccans and Ecuadoreans, followed by Romanians and Colombians, and then by a long list of migrants from outside the First World coming from countries as diverse as China, Bulgaria, Ukraine, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, and the Philippines. The result? The International News Alliance recently featured an article translated from El Pais.

At the beginning of the decade, demographers calculated there would be a stagnation, followed by a regression, in the growth of the Spanish population, which would not exceed 41 million people in the year 2050. The recent acceleration of the influx of immigrants has been the reason why the latest figures show a Spanish population of 44 million: 3.6 million more than in 2000. In 2004, the last year whose figures have been collated, the population grew by 900,000 people, 700,000 of whom were born outside Spain: 23 percent more than the previous year.

The result is that Spain, which used to have one of the lowest percentages of immigrants among the EU countries (two percent in 1998), now has the fourth highest, at 8.5 percent. Until not long ago, data on immigration was often received with alarm, underlining only the potential risks, especially if the economic situation ceased to be buoyant. Now the accent is more on the energizing effects it has on economic growth, as well as on the rejuvenation of the population pyramid, which moderates the previous trend to a rising percentage of inactive citizens. The change in the panorama is complemented by a higher birth rate among immigrants than Spaniards.

[. . .]

We are looking at a phenomenon comparable to the demographic change caused, first about 1900 and then after 1950, by internal migration from rural, agrarian Spain to the industrialized regions, headed by Catalonia, the Basque Country and Madrid. The difference is that in those days most of the immigrants shared the religion, language and customs of the people in the receptor regions, while they now come from very diverse countries and cultures - posing integration problems. Moroccans, followed by Ecuadorans, are the biggest immigrant communities, at about half a million each. But one novelty is immigration from Eastern Europe, especially Romanians, who number more than 300,000.

No, Spain is not becoming Islamized, save in the sense that in a decade's time it will have a community of a million or so people of Moroccan background who will be at least nominally Muslim by religion, and that--judging by developments in the whole of the Maghreb--these immigrants will become parents to proportionally only slightly more children than their non-Muslim counterparts. Long a multinational state, Spain is now a melting pot in the bargain. This will be interesting.

Within the space of a decade, Spain's population composition has changed radically thanks to a population increase of almost 10%. No one saw this wave coming, but this came nonetheless and transformed things radically. Given this single compelling example, it seems if nothing else prudent not to trace out population curves out to infinity.
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