Sunday, October 29, 2006

It's Worth Checking

"By "demographic," I mean the Muslim world's high birth rate, which by mid-century will give tiny Yemen a higher population than vast empty Russia."
Mark Steyn, America Alone

I have not read Mark Steyn's new book; the quote is from a webbed excerpt. For all I know many of his claims about the implications of high birth rates in the Muslim world and low birth rates in Europe may be true. But his claim about Yemen and Russia struck me as sufficiently surprising to be worth checking.

A few minutes of googling got me to a page of summary demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Their population estimate for Yemen in 2050 is 71 million, which is indeed surprisingly high. Their estimate for Russia, however, is 109 million.

Population estimates that far ahead are inherently uncertain; they depend in part on reproductive decisions by people not yet born. But insofar as there can be an authoritative source for such an estimate, the Census Bureau comes a lot closer to qualifying than Mark Steyn. Googling some more, this time on references to Steyn's book, I have not yet found anyone else who bothered to check his numbers. Reviewers and bloggers, at least the ones I found, simply took them at face value.

After all, it wouldn't have been printed if it wasn't true, would it?


At 9:40 PM, October 29, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It'll be interesting to see what happens in cases like Yemen and Russia. Richer countries tend to have lower birthrates, so if Yemen gets richer its birth rate will likely fall. If it doesn't get richer however, there's a limit to the population that it can support without epidemics that would limit the population.

As far a Russia goes, I have a vague sense that the low birth rate of former Warsaw pact countries is a result of communism, though I'm not sure how it actually works as direct causality. The birthrate may change drastically within a generation or two, it's hard to know.

At 3:01 PM, October 30, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Honk Honk

At 3:12 PM, October 30, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Eastern Europe, the low birth rates, AFAIK, are "echoes" of WW2, wich bought immense devastation to these countries. Birth rates are expected to plunge periodically in each generation, though these plunges are expected to become more spread-out and more shallow over time.
Consider, that almost two thirds of WW2's casualties died in this region and this is where most savage fighting and genocide took place, all in the course of less than 6 years.
The unborn children to WW2 casualties cannot give birth to grandchildren.
Birth rates are going up already, as we have just passed the low point of the second echo of WW2.

At 1:02 PM, October 31, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Changing the Yemeni growth rate to 3.8% (from the census bureau's projection of 2.8%) would put Yemen over Russia by 2050.

Perhaps Steyn just used a different estimate?

At 2:07 PM, October 31, 2006, Blogger Don Coffin said...

The World Bank (,,contentMDK:21032960~menuPK:989684~pagePK:1497618~piPK:217854~theSitePK:305600,00.html) has Russia's (2005) population at 143.2 million, with a recent annual growth rate of -0.5%. The World Bank does not include Yemen in its list of countries. However, let's assume the 71 million is correct for Yemen by 2050.

The CIA World Fact Book has an estimate of Yemen's population (July 2006; of about 21.5 million. To reach 71 million by 2050 requires a 3.8% annual growth rate. For Russia's population to fall to 71 million by 2050 requires a -1.5% annual growth rate (using the World Bank's population figures).

Both of those seem somewhat unlikely. In particular, does anyone really think Russia's population is going to fall by 50% in the next 45 years? If it does, that'd be the most amazing long-term populations declines in human history.

At 6:16 PM, October 31, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doc, are you sure? I get a 2.7% or 2.8% growth rate to go from 21MM to 71MM in 45 years. 2.8, not 3.8.

At 8:12 AM, November 01, 2006, Blogger Don Coffin said...

Well, I must have done something wrong the first time I did the calculation; re-doing it, I also get 2.7%.

At 6:22 PM, November 04, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This kind of far-future demographic projection seems like it's almost always silly. Doesn't anyone else remember how based on similar projections, we were all sure we'd be starving by 2000? (This wasn't just something a few wacky leftists believed, either--check out Heinlein's predictions in _Expanded Universe_.) We're looking at complicated social trends, and fitting a straight line to them is probably mostly silly.

At 6:52 PM, July 25, 2007, Blogger bernie said...

Re: "there's a limit to the population that it can support without epidemics that would limit the population."

The limit is higher than you think. Africa cannot support anywhere near 5% of its almost 1 billion ever-growing booming population.

I also document that Russia will be primarily Muslim by 2050 in my article Islamic Russia and the End of Civilization


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