Daniel Johnson: Demography is not usually thought of as a very sexy subject, but it is more important in some ways than any other, when it comes to considering the destiny of the human race. I've brought you two together because you're both interested in it from completely different backgrounds and perspectives. I don't think that everybody sees there is a demographic problem. Even many of the politicians and other public figures who do know there is a problem don't want to talk about it. So this is one important role a magazine like Standpoint can provide, to drag these things out into the open and talk about them. Is it the case that Europe in particular, and perhaps the Western world in general, is literally dying out?
David Coleman: I would say definitely not. But that's a view which is popular among some of my American friends, who view with a certain element of regretful schadenfreude the descent into triviality of old Europe, with its old-fashioned attitudes, its creaking economy, its inability to reproduce itself, its huge numbers of Muslim immigrants and all the rest.
There are things to be concerned about, certainly. We are entering a new era and Europe is in the forefront of it. But in a sense, Europe is the hope for the rest of the world, in showing what might happen after the population growth over the past 200 years, in terms of a cessation of growth, and a movement into gradual decline in some
areas and gradual growth in others, which I don't regard as very alarming. Population growth has got to come to an end eventually. It cannot possibly continue at anything like the present rate. It can't continue at the present rate in England, never mind in tropical Africa where the rates are very much higher and the environment and the population are so much more fragile.
"Europe" is not really a demographic concept because it is enormously variable. France is now at replacement level fertility, Britain is 1.9 at the moment and is expected to be between 1.96 and 1.98 in 2008; it is in a club with Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland and a few others. This is not the road to extinction. Neither do I believe that the low birth rates typical of the southern European countries are likely to stay that low forever, partly because the way we measure the birth rate tends to deflate it incorrectly. I don't think that the 1.2 or 1.3 children per woman, which this conventional measure gives for southern Europe, is actually going to be realised in due course. It doesn't take into account the fact that people are postponing their babies and this deflates the measure artificially. It's not a terribly good measure but there isn't a perfect one.
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