Impact of falling birth rates


Sir, – My article on the collapse of birth rates across Europe in The Irish Times on January 19th caused a bit of a stir (“Let’s talk about the link between immigration and low reproduction rates”). Reaction was mixed. About half the reactions that came directly to me were favourable, and half unfavourable. Now that most or all of the reaction is in, I would like to comment briefly.

The main point, almost the only point, of my article is that persistence of the current below replacement birth rates across Europe will have huge and inevitable demographic consequences and meeting these consequences calls for debate and careful planning. Many critics of my article ignored this demographic consequences point.

Many critics also seemed to think that declining birth rates are a particular hobby horse of mine. Not so. Governments across the EU are very worried about the low birth rates and publicly campaign on this matter, particularly the German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek and French governments. Several EU countries now offer financial and other incentives to women to have more children.

Furthermore almost everything I said in my article of January 19th has already been widely aired both in the mainstream popular media and in professional journals, eg in the Observer newspaper on August 23rd, 2015, and in demographic analysis published by Robert Rowthorn, the respected left-leaning emeritus professor of economics at Cambridge University (eg in Prospect Magazine, February 20th, 2003). I don’t recall these various reports causing much of a stir.

In his opinion piece in The Irish Times (“Immigration will enhance Irish culture, not dilute it”, January 26th), “answering” my article, David Grimes pays little attention to the huge demographic consequences of continuing with the below-replacement birth rates in Europe, contenting himself with correlating declining birth rates with increasing levels of female educational attainment. On the other hand, he gives a lengthy scholarly exposition as to why there is little or no scientific basis for the concept of race. I agree with him on this latter point but it seems to have escaped his attention that the word race does not appear even once in my article.

However, I must hold my hands up about one aspect of my article of January 19th. I wrote the last third of the article rather clumsily, thereby apparently prompting some to conclude that I frown on immigration per se. Of course I do not (I am mindful that the Revilles were immigrants to Ireland!), but if we are to have long-term large-scale immigration as a consequence of the low birth rates it should be managed immigration, ie care must be taken that all the necessary supports (health, housing, education, jobs, etc) are in place to ensure harmonious reception and integration of the immigrants. – Yours, etc,


Emeritus Professor,

University College Cork.