Friday, August 29, 2008

It's politically incorrect day

One of the troubles with writing about the population crises is that people get all upset when you start asking certain difficult questions.

For example (this one's for you Anastasia, just to see if you're still obsessing over my racism), I saw a news report today that says that "France" is "growing" in population.

Now let's pause for a moment to examine this statement, to ask for a few definitions and clarifications.

By "France" are we referring to the geographical region at 46 00 N, 2 00 E ? The largest country of Western Europe, bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Andorra, and Spain.?

Or are we talking about something else?

Something to do with wine, truffles, cathedrals, Edith Piaf, literature, philosophy, cheese, lace making, Charlemagne, Capetians and Carolingians, Bourbons and Valois, the Lex Salica...

You see, to understand the assertion that the population of "France" is growing, we need to know what "France" is. Are we talking about The French? Or are we just talking about people who live between 46 00 N and 2 00 E ? Does living within those geographic boundaries make one "French"? Or is it something else?

Immigration is singled out as the sole mitigating factor, seen as crucial to maintaining population growth. But the report says this probably will not be enough to reverse the trend of population decline in many countries.

The survey predicts that Britain's population by 2060 will increase by 25% from the current figure of just over 61 million to almost 77 million.

Germany is the biggest country in the EU, with more than 82 million people, but it is likely to shed almost 12 million by 2060, says the report. The widely praised family policies and support of working women in France means that the French population will rise to almost 72 million by 2060.

Here's some stats:

Total population: 60,876,136 (not including colonies)

Median age of women: 40.7 years

Total fertility rate: 1.98 children born/woman

According to the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies, France has an estimated 4.9 million foreign-born immigrants, of which 2 million have acquired French citizenship. France is the leading asylum destination in Western Europe with an estimated 50,000 applications in 2005.

With the median age of women in France well over the age at which women find it easy to conceive, are we not talking about a canoe that is just about to tip over the edge of the falls?

Perhaps the news reports are exaggerated a little. Maybe they mean that it's not so much that "France is growing" as it is shrinking, largely due to immigration, somewhat less quickly than most other European countries. Which might look like growth, in the same way that a car going 40 mph on the highway looks like it is standing still to someone doing 120.

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