In the cradle of Western civilization, the cradles are empty. From the Atlantic to the Urals, in good and bad economies, in Protestant and Catholic societies, the countries of Europe are witnessing an unprecedented decline in birthrates.
This “baby bust,” analysts warn, will affect economic growth, social-welfare programs, patterns of immigration and Europe’s ability to pull its weight diplomatically, culturally and militarily in the 21st century.
In 1900, according to U.N. estimates, one out of four human beings on the planet—24.7 percent—lived in Europe.
Today, the European population share is a little more than 10 percent. By 2025—with the average woman in the European Union bearing just 1.48 children in her lifetime—the ratio of Europeans to everyone else is projected to be less than one in 14—7 percent.
One direct fallout from the demographic slump was on vivid display during the riots that rocked the suburbs of Paris and a string of French cities this month.
The rioters were overwhelmingly drawn from the ranks of young, unemployed sons of immigrant families from North and West Africa. As in countries across Europe, the largely Muslim immigrants were drawn to France to take low-end jobs that the native population could not or would not do.
With large-scale immigration from former colonies such as Algeria, France’s estimated 6 million Muslims represent 10 percent of the nation’s overall population.
Michael Vlahos, a former State Department analyst now with the Joint Warfare Analysis Department at Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory, argues that the “Arab boomer” generation now in its teens and early twenties will have an outsized impact on European society.
With native European populations not producing enough children to maintain current population levels, “the bow-wave of the Arab ‘boomer’ generation, buoyed by aggressive illegal immigration, could still push the proportion of Muslims in France, Italy and Spain up to a quarter or even a third of their population,” Mr. Vlahos wrote in a recent analysis.
In the coming 40-year period beginning in 2010, “even if Muslims in Roman Europe still only represent 20 to 25 percent of the total population, working adults may reach 40 percent or more,” he wrote. “That era—from 2010 to 2050—could alter the nature of European civilization.”
The first wave of Muslim immigrants to France had a birthrate three times that of the native French, a pattern replicated in other EU countries with heavy immigrant populations drawn from Africa and the Middle East.
“With current trends,” Bernard Lewis, a leading U.S. scholar of Islam, has said, “Europe will have Muslim majorities in the population by the end of the 21st century.”
But other analysts say demographic history suggests that “present trends” are unlikely to continue.
Birthrates in the Muslim world are already falling sharply as well. American Enterprise Institute scholar Ben Wattenberg, author of “Few,” a study of declining birthrates worldwide, said the average family size of immigrants in Europe quickly matches that of longtime natives.
Complicating the picture is the historical baggage that comes from past European efforts to boost birthrates.
France and Estonia have had limited success with “pro-natalism” programs, but an Italian proposal to pay a 1,000-euro baby bounty to couples who have more than one child raised unfortunate echoes of past racial purity measures proposed by Benito Mussolini’s Fascists.