Studying the international ‘Muslim Tide’ that wasn’t

| Full Comment | National Post
Immigrants have large families. Any social service agency will tell you that public-housing apartments built for four-person families are inadequate for big new-immigrant families. This is nothing new. Recently arrived immigrants have always had big families: The seemingly limitless issue of Roman Catholics and Jews in the neighbourhoods of Western cities was the subject of national hysteria throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. But within a generation or two, their family sizes were little different from those of the general population.

Still, many in the West believe that Muslims are different: Not only do they have larger families than the people around them, but they sometimes have higher fertility rates than their cousins back in the home country. Moroccan women in the Netherlands, for instance, have a fertility rate of 2.9 children, while Moroccan women in Morocco have 2.4 children each. Bangladeshis in Britain have 3.0 children, while those in Bangladesh have 2.4. So even if fertility rates at home are falling toward Western levels, relatives who have migrated to the West appear to be maintaining larger families. This, to some observers, is proof that there is a conspiracy of deliberate population growth, an invasion by reproductive means.

There are two important reasons for these higher numbers. First, the Muslim immigrants who come to Europe (though not so much to the United States or Canada) are overwhelmingly from rural areas, where fertility rates are much higher than the national average. Turks tend to come from rural Anatolia and the southeast, not from Istanbul or Ankara; Moroccans from the Rif mountains; the largest group of Pakistanis from Mirpur, a rural district in Kashmir; the majority of British Bangladeshis from Sylhet, an almost entirely rural district in the northeast of Bangladesh. Around the world and throughout history, rural families have more children — often many more.

These immigrants aren’t just changing from one national culture to another, but from a rural to an urban culture, which is an even more shocking adjustment. But it is a shift that universally leads to smaller families. It also produces higher-than-usual levels of culture shock and insecurity — one of the key reasons why integration is slower and more difficult for some of these immigrants than it is for more urban immigrant groups.

Second, the highest family-size numbers are probably wrong. Women from Muslim countries tend to give birth to the majority of their children soon after arriving in their new homelands. Because of the way total fertility rate is calculated — by averaging the recorded births across a woman’s fertile lifespan — a cluster of births will produce an exaggerated figure.

We now have proof that this is occurring. A large-scale study from Germany shows that a sizable majority of immigrants from Turkey marry and have most of their children almost immediately after arrival. Studies in France show that immigrant women tend to have children during their first two years in France — an effect that, once taken into account, lowers the real French Muslim fertility rate from 2.5 children to 2.2, barely above the native-born French rate. A similar effect is found in Sweden.

This high birth rate in the early years tends to create a sense of panic among observers. It led to the rather startling observation that the most common name for baby boys in Britain is Mohammed. This is true in some years (most recently 2010), if you count all 12 variants of its spelling as a single name, but it says little beyond the fact that Muslims have far less variety in their names than other, much larger ethnic groups — the majority of Muslim men in many cultures have Mohammed as their legal first name. At the same time, members of other ethnic groups (especially white Anglo-Saxons and black American Christians) are now more than 50% more likely than they were a generation before to give their children uncommon names. The result is that Mohammeds can dominate the list without being terribly great in number: Together, boys named after the prophet accounted for 1% of British newborns in 2010.

That points to something else that lowers the population-growth rate. The Muslim immigrants in some countries supposedly being swamped by Islam are more likely to be male, as a result of immigration driven by manual-labour employment shortages that tend to attract unaccompanied men. Because intermarriage in the first generation is rare, few of these male immigrants are marrying and having offspring even if their community’s fertility rate appears high. An average of 3.0 children per woman isn’t as significant if only a third of your population is female. And that’s exactly the case in Spain, which has 190 Moroccan men for every 100 Moroccan women.

But the vision of a “Muslim tide” isn’t primarily based on immigrants having many children. It’s based on the children of immigrants having many children, and their children having more children, and so on. Do the offspring of the Muslims who came to the West make babies at a Sudanese pace, or do they fall into the more modest childbearing patterns of Europe and North America? In short, do they become like the people around them?

France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, 4.7 million, and its politics are often defined by tensions over Islamic immigration. Many believe that the poor Muslim immigrants housed in the high-rise apartment towers on the edges of French cities have formed parallel societies, isolating themselves from the mainstream. The struggles of Muslims in France, including the 2005 riots, feature heavily in the “Eurabia” literature — in which conservative cultural critics present Europe as being overwhelmed by Muslim immigrants.

But French Muslims, despite their economic isolation, are falling fast into the reproduction patterns — and the cultural patterns — of their host country. A major study by American and French scholars found that fertility rates are “closely tied to length of residence in France … the longer immigrant women live in France, the fewer children they have; their fertility rate approaches that of native-born women.” The real fertility rates of French Muslim women, as we have seen, are now only slightly higher than those of the general population, and they are still falling. The data, the authors conclude, “show that immigrants adapt to local norms (and, perhaps, to the cost of living) soon after arrival. The change may reflect acculturation, a reaction to living in close quarters, the entry of women into the workforce, or improved socioeconomic status.” This drop in fertility rate is a key measure of integration, and it is happening dramatically in France.

In Germany, home to more than 2-million Turkish immigrants and their children, the convergence has been even more remarkable. In 1970, Turks in Germany had 4.4 children each, and ethnic Germans 2.0. Today Turks have fewer than 2.2 children, barely above the general reproduction rate. Large-scale surveys suggest that the fertility rate of second-generation Turks is on the verge of falling to the very low German rate of 1.3 children. This sort of “fertility convergence” is not unique to Muslim immigrants; it is observed among other poor religious-minority immigrant groups, such as Latin American Catholics in the United States, whose birth rates are approaching those of the wider population, albeit slowly.

Often characterized as the site of a Muslim demographic takeover, Austria is home to one of Europe’s most extreme fertility contrasts: The Muslim population has a fairly high birth rate (2.3 to 2.4) and the non-Muslim population has an unusually low one (1.3). Several credible projections show that the Muslim population in Austria could come close to 10% by 2030 and could reach 14% to 18% by 2051 if immigration rates remain constant. This would make Islam the third-largest religion in Austria, by mid-century.

But before predicting that steeples will be driven out by minaret spires and Islam will reconquer Vienna by stealth (as several Eurabia authors have done), it’s worth taking a closer look at what’s happening. Austria’s Muslims had a recorded fertility rate of 3.09 children per mother in 1981, 2.77 in 1991, and 2.3 in 2001: They have the fastest-falling fertility rates of any group in Austria. By 2030, that rate will fall to 2.1 children per family, not enough to create any growth; among non-Muslims, the rate is predicted to rise slightly to 1.4, leaving a very small gap. Indeed, one study projects that the fertility rates of Austria’s Muslims will converge with those of non-Muslims shortly after 2030.

Britain is headed, more slowly, in a similar direction. Its Muslim population comes mainly from Bangladesh and Pakistan, two countries whose fertility rates remain high. But the fertility rates of immigrants from those countries in Britain have fallen by half over the past 20 years, and the rates of their British-born children are considerably lower. Women living in Britain who emigrated from Pakistan have 3.5 children each, while their British-born daughters have 2.5. One study concludes that Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrant fertility rates will drop to white British levels, depending on a number of hard-to-predict variables, between 2012 and 2040.24 Canada, whose largest group of Muslim immigrants comes from the Indian subcontinent, will likely experience a similar pattern.

By 2030, even without any decrease in immigration levels, the Muslim and non-Muslim birth rates will be statistically identical in Germany, Greece, Spain and Denmark, and within half a child of one another in Belgium, France, Italy and Sweden. Across the entire European continent, the difference will be only 0.4, down from 0.7 two decades earlier. And that difference will continue to shrink. At that rate, the continent’s Muslims and non-Muslims should have nearly identical fertility rates by 2050.

This does not mean that those rates will converge in all countries. And growth can continue after the fertility rates become the same, because Muslims may have a larger population of childbearing age. But these trends do show that Muslims are following the path of earlier religious-minority immigrants to countries of the West, including Jews and Roman Catholics: From big families and rapid growth in the first couple of decades to a gradual blending into the fertility patterns of the host population later on. This fertility convergence, demographers note, is usually a strong indicator of other forms of integration. When women decide to have fewer children (for it is almost always their decision), it’s a sign that their education levels and social values are falling into line with those of their new country.

Deprived of any genuine facts suggesting an overwhelming Muslim baby boom, the more radical Muslim-tide proponents simply make them up. More than 13 million people have now viewed the YouTube video Muslim Demographics, which claims among other things that Germany will be a “Muslim state” by 2050. Every one of the video’s claims is untrue. It says that French Muslims have 8.1 children and ethnic-French families 1.8 (the figures are 2.8 and 1.9, respectively). It says that a quarter of the Belgian population is Muslim (it’s 6%), that the Netherlands will be half Muslim in 15 years (it will be 7.8% Muslim in 18 years) — and so on.
For the core claims of Muslim Demographics to be true, Muslim immigrants in the West would need to have fertility rates far above the highest ever recorded in the world. As I’ve just shown, they’re nowhere close.

Excerpted from The Myth of the Muslim Tide. Copyright © 2012 Doug Saunders. Published by Knopf Canada, an imprint of the Knopf Random Canada Publishing Group, which is a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.


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