Immigration: a different kind of challenge?

Understandably recent debates about immigration, both under Labour and now with the lively debates within the Coalition over an immigration cap (or colander, as the case may be) has focused in on the short-term perspective of what policy is appropriate for the next few years for the UK. The wider context however is very striking:

Close to half of the world’s population now lives in countries with fertility rates below the replacement level, which, as a rough rule of thumb, is 2.1 births per woman. In these states – absent steady compensatory immigration – current childbearing patterns will lead to an eventual and indefinite depopulation. Almost all of the world’s developed countries have sub-replacement fertility, with overall birthrates more than 20 percent below the level required for long-term population stability. But developed countries account for less than a fifth of the world’s population; the great majority of the world’s populations with sub-replacement fertility in fact reside in low-income societies…

It is not known how long a society that has entered into sub-replacement-fertility mode will stay there: Japan, for example, began reporting sub-replacement fertility in the 1950s and has had uninterrupted sub-replacement fertility since the early 1970s. Demographers, it should be emphasized, still have no reliable techniques for making accurate long-term fertility forecasts. Nevertheless, some specialists argue that ultralow fertility rates may be but a harbinger of future – and currently unimaginable – fertility declines. (Nicholas Eberstadt, Foreign Affairs [£])

Although the article goes on to speculate on the global impact of these potential demographic changes, if they turn out to be even close to correct they suggest that over the next few decades the big immigration challenge for Western governments will not be about how to reduce or control immigration but about how to attract enough immigrants.

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10 Comments

  • David from Ealing 22nd Nov '10 - 9:56am

    Some interesting research on the issues is being done by the Ramphal Centre. http://www.ramphalcentre.org/

  • Liberal Neil 22nd Nov '10 - 10:57am

    Your final point seems to assume that there is some reason why we need to maintain overall population levels.

    Surely a long term decreasing population is a good thing, particularly if most people are living longer and healthier lives?

    We just need to slowly and steadily increase the average working life over time to keep up with better life expectancy.

  • But global population is growing, which suggests that the other half of the population live in the world’s poorer countries with fertility rates that are more than making up for the under-replacement of the richer half.

    As Eberstadt pointed out: “developed countries account for less than a fifth of the world’s population; the great majority of the world’s populations with sub-replacement fertility in fact reside in low-income societies…”

    America’s fertility has gone up quite a bit in recent years, our own has increased more slightly. The way things are going, in fifty years fertility might be higher in the West than in the rest of the world. And still below the replacement rate.

  • from a global environmental pov, yes falling population is a good thing.
    But from a national economical one, fewer people means really fewer young and WORKING people, so less tax revenue and less people to pay and care for an increasing number of older people (and their retirement, health and social care).

  • I am not impressed with the observation ….’that we Liberals will not be able to contribute much to the politics of this except some ostentatious hand wringing in the background…’

    If that is all we can do then best gently shut the door and….emigrate.

    Britain is a nation built with immigrants and on immigration. Our culture, our industry, our science, technology, design and research and our food and our travel, literature and art are all built on the bricks of hundreds and hundreds of years of immigration.

    Include environmental and green issues, birth rates, working age, contribution to pensions etc. if you wish, but the
    fundamental reason for enlightened views on immigration is that it is the right thing to do. And we are Liberal Democrats and we believe in that. Don’t we?

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