I recall a few years back Turkey’s Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan getting a lot of stick in certain circles for exhorting families to have three children. At the time, I felt the criticism was a little unfair. Families in poorer regions of the country have traditionally had numerous offspring – and three would be a very moderate number for some. A student once told me she was the seventh child in her family. Her name was “Yeter” – Turkish for “That’s enough”.
On the other hand, more affluent couples, especially in larger cities in the west of the country, are emulating their peers in “civilised” post-modern societies and choosing to limit themselves to one child, or maybe to have none at all.
Fair enough, of course. Far be it from me to interfere with a woman’s right to choose. Nevertheless, it’s common knowledge that that those wealthy post-modern societies in the West have difficult times ahead. Their age/sex pyramids are becoming top-heavy as the baby-boomer demographic moves into the high-maintenance social welfare bracket, collecting old age pensions and demanding more of health services. Younger generations are faced with the prospect of heavier taxation at the same time as burgeoning property prices make it increasingly difficult to put a secure roof over their own heads.
These headlines appeared recently in UK news media:
How Europe is slowly dying despite an increasing world population (Telegraph)
Europe needs many more babies to avert a population disaster (Guardian)
The Telegraph reported that “Italy is dying and newborns are not replacing those who die, according to the country’s health minister”; and other European countries face a similar situation. Germany’s population is expected to plunge from 81 million to 67 million by 2060, and an increasing proportion of those will be “grey” voters, turning the country into a “gerontocratic” society – one governed by the old.
The Guardian warned “Europe desperately needs more young people to run its health services, populate its rural areas and look after its elderly because, increasingly, its societies are no longer self-sustaining.”
In 1970, Italy’s predominantly Catholic population was joyously reproducing at a rate of 2.37 babies per woman, comfortably above the number required to maintain a steady population. In 2013 the rate had fallen to 1.39, approaching the figure demographers refer to as “lowest-low fertility”.
Average fertility rate over the entire European Union is 1.58. Ironically, even this low figure is largely attributable to the tendency of poorer migrants to have larger families. Europe’s determination to shut its doors to migrants and refugees may prove to be costly or even fatal in the long-term.
Well, Turkey is not yet in quite such dire straits, but an article in our English language daily the other day reported:
Turkey’s fertility rate falls to critical level of 2.1 for first time since WWI.
2.1 is generally accepted as the minimum number of live births per woman necessary to maintain a stable population. The figure has been declining steadily in recent years. In 1998 it was 2.8. In fact, forecasts for 2016 had suggested the rate would drop to 1.85 – but apparently the influx of refugees from war-torn Syria, currently producing 70,000 new babies each year, is boosting the national average.
Well, every cloud has a silver lining.