Demography and Destiny?

Mark Steyn writes, with his customary verve, about birth rates, Japan, Australia, Europe, and the Muslim world. Some key paragraphs:

Will Japan's economy return to the heady days of the 1980s when US businesses cowered in terror? Answer: No. Japan is exactly the same as it was in its heyday except for one fact: it stopped breeding and its population aged. Will China be the hyperpower of the 21st century? Answer: No. Its population will get old before it gets rich.

Check back with me in a century and we'll see who's right on that one. But here's one we know the answer to: Why is this newspaper published in the language of a tiny island on the other side of the earth? Why does Australia have an English Queen, English common law, English institutions? Because England was the first nation to conquer infant mortality.

By 1820 medical progress had so transformed British life that half the population was under the age of 15. Britain had the manpower to take, hold, settle and administer huge chunks of real estate around the planet. Had, say, China or Russia been first to overcome childhood mortality, the modern world would be very different.

What country today has half of its population under the age of 15? Italy has 14 per cent, the UK 18 per cent, Australia 20 per cent -- and Saudi Arabia has 39 per cent, Pakistan 40 per cent and Yemen 47 per cent. Little Yemen, like little Britain 200 years ago, will send its surplus youth around the world -- one way or another.

I'm not sure how right Steyn is, either on the general matter or on his specific concerns about abortion. My sense is that later marriages and later onset of childbirth in marriages may be a more important economic factor here; and of course decreased childbirth may in many situations create economic benefits (as women, and to some extent men, spend more time working) as well as economic costs. Nonetheless, his argument seems quite intriguing (and, as usual, very readable), and the topic is certainly tremendously important and in my experience underdiscussed.