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The Choice: More Immigrants or Fewer Citizens?

Low fertility rates among countries lead to population decline and higher proportions of older citizens. So the countries with such demographics face a choice: allowing more immigrants, along with the revenue, services and cultural influences they bring or accepting the population decline and economic contraction. “Currently, about 76 countries, including Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Iran, Sweden, Thailand and Vietnam, have fertility rates below the replacement level, representing close to half of the world’s population,” explains demographer Joseph Chamie. To stabilize their populations, countries with lower birthrates must admit greater numbers of immigrants. For many developed countries, immigration represents the bulk of population growth. Chamie points out that “Many of those migrating today are ethnically, religiously and culturally different from the populations of the receiving countries, boosting anxiety about integration and cultural integrity and fears about ethnic conflict.” Demographers present the warning signs, and governments have plenty of time to draft sensible policies that could minimize uncertainty, resentment and instability. – YaleGlobal

The Choice: More Immigrants or Fewer Citizens?

Nations with declining birthrates could soon be competing for immigrants
Joseph Chamie
YaleGlobal, 4 March 2013
The old and new: Japan’s aging population calls for immigration to sustain the economy (top); police arrest African immigrants arriving on the Spanish shore

NEW YORK: An increasing number of countries in the 21st century face a critical choice – more immigrants or fewer citizens. At the forefront of this dilemma for the advanced countries is Japan the population of which will decline by 14 percent in the next four decades. The simple, powerful force behind this predicament is demography. When deaths outnumber births, the unavoidable outcome is population decline – unless immigration makes up for the shortfall.

Today deaths outnumber births in more than a dozen countries including Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Russian Federation and Ukraine. Another 24 countries are also expected to see their populations decline by midcentury, even assuming continuing immigration during the coming decades, ranging from a loss of 26 percent for Georgia and Bulgaria to 14 percent for Japan and 5 percent for China.

Furthermore, if immigration were to stop altogether, the population declines for some of those countries, such as Austria, Germany, Italy and the Russian Federation, would be even greater than currently projected (Figure 1). For example, assuming a net number of immigrants of almost 135,000 per year, Italy’s 2050 population is projected to be 3 percent smaller than it is today. Without immigration, Italy’s population would decline by 15 percent by midcentury.

The underlying reason for deaths outnumbering births is not high death rates. It’s simply because birthrates are falling below the replacement level of two births per woman. In the absence of immigration, if a country’s average fertility rate remains below the average of about two births per woman, then its population will eventually and inevitably shrink.

Figure 1: Percent Decline in Population With & Without Migration: 2013-2050. Enlarge Image

Currently, about 76 countries, including Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Iran, Sweden, Thailand and Vietnam, have fertility rates below the replacement level, representing close to half of the world’s population. In addition, one-third of those countries, notably Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Singapore, South Korea and Spain, have fertility levels less than 1.5 births per woman. A noteworthy exception is India with a fertility rate at 2.5 births per woman, down from 3.2 births per woman just a decade ago. As a consequence of its comparatively higher birthrate and its enormous size, nearly 1.3 billion, India, which now accounts for 22 percent to of the world’s annual population growth of 78 million, is expected to exceed China’s population in eight years.

If governments in countries with fertility rates persistently below replacement levels wish to stabilize their populations size, then immigration is required to make up for the difference between deaths and births. For example, the net number of immigrants needed to maintain Germany’s current population of almost 82 million throughout the current decade is approximately 200,000 per year, about double the number currently assumed in United Nations population projections. The corresponding annual net numbers of immigrants needed for Japan and Russia to stabilize their populations are even greater, about 230,000 and 350,000, respectively, many times greater than their current immigration levels.

Even for countries that have fertility rates near the two-child replacement level, such as Australia, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, immigration can have an enormous impact on future population growth (Figure 2). In the United Kingdom, for instance, nearly 95 percent of its population growth by midcentury is the result of immigration – both immigrants and their descendants. Also, whereas the midcentury populations of Australia and the United States with migration are projected to increase by 35 percent and 27 percent, respectively, without immigration the projected increases in their populations fall to 10 percent.

Figure 2: Percent Increase in Population With & Without Migration: 2013-2050. Enlarge Image

In addition to population growth, population aging is another demographic consideration. Many countries, especially those with below-replacement fertility, are facing marked shifts in their age structures, with increased numbers of the aged and declines of those of working age. Italy, for instance, with continuing immigration of nearly 135,0000 per annum is projected by midcentury to see its elderly population increase by 57 percent and its working-age population, ages 20 to 64 years, decline by 22 percent. Without immigration, the decline in Italy’s working-age population is more substantial, doubling to 44 percent.

Even countries with fertility at replacement levels are closely looking at immigration to offset some effects of population aging. For example, with about a million immigrants per year, the United States working-age population, ages 20 to 64, is projected to increase by 17 percent by midcentury. However, if immigration to the United States were halted, its working-age population in 2050 would be about 1 percent smaller than it is today.

Another demographic consideration is the composition of the immigrants. Many of those migrating today are ethnically, religiously and culturally different from the populations of the receiving countries, boosting anxiety about integration and cultural integrity and fears about ethnic conflict. In countries, such as Japan and South Korea, ethnic homogeneity is widely viewed as a positive characteristic. While foreign workers may add to the shrinking Japanese and Korean labor forces to effectively pay for the pensions and healthcare of the elderly, introducing large numbers of immigrants from other cultures is seen as increasing the chances of social unrest and violent clashes as is frequently reported in ethnically diverse nations throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and elsewhere.

Even countries with fertility at replacement levels look at immigration to offset effects of population aging.

While governments, business leaders and various ethnic, social and political organizations may view more immigrants as beneficial – a partial solution to addressing the consequences of declining and aging populations and sometimes even politically and economically advantageous – the general public appears less willing to accept the arrival of large numbers of immigrants. The wide gap between public sentiment and government policy is clearly illustrated by the recent debates, demonstrations and protests in Singapore against government plans to increase immigration to make up for the country’s low birthrate, which at 1.3 births per woman is nearly one child below the replacement level.

The public often perceives immigrants as threatening employment conditions and opportunities, depressing wages, increasing crime, driving up prices, contributing to declines in public education, raising the costs of local services and internal surveillance, and profiteering from social-services entitlements. Public sentiment in many countries is particularly negative towards those unlawfully resident and working in the country. Increased unemployment, poor enforcement of laws and regulations, and a flourishing shadow economy that relies on low-wage illegal workers also contribute to rising anti-immigrant sentiment.

Opinion polls in many countries frequently show that the majority of the public wishes to reduce current immigration levels and prefers that illegal immigrants return to their home countries. In Russia, for example, a recent survey found that two-thirds of the respondents wanted fewer migrants and 73 percent support deporting those in the country illegally.

As is widely recognized, government efforts to raise low fertility rates to replacement levels seem highly unlikely at least for the foreseeable future. Therefore, demography dictates that when deaths outnumber births, population decline is unavoidable unless immigration makes up the shortfall. As the working-age population drops and the numbers elderly rise, immigrants are brought in to sustain the economy, but it can prove destabilizing for the society and politically risky. Although governments may wish it to be different, the laws of demography can neither be repealed nor dismissed. Fewer citizens or more immigrants – this remains a critical choice for an increasing number of countries throughout the 21st century.

Joseph Chamie, former director of the United Nations Population Division, recently stepped down as research director at the Center for Migration Studies.
Rights:Copyright © 2013 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization

Comments on this Article

11 March 2013
I'd like to comment about China. Although China hasn't experienced a dip in population (because of the Mao "baby boom"), it soon will. One reason for this is China's "one child" policy, of course. The other reason is "genercide", that is, the selective abortioin of female fetuses. The current ration of boy to girl births is about 1.18 to 1 in China. It is naturally 1.03 to 1.
Also, in China there has been very little investment in an infrastructure to take care of people when they retire, that is, health and pension benefits. Previous generations had the "eldest son" to take care of them in their old age, but this has been weakened by the one child policy and by the movement away from an agricultural economy (the eldest son also inherited the farm). Because of the strenuous nature of most work in China, old age comes quickly. Construction workers and most other manual laborers are through at 50, at least in terms of being able to find a job.
Taken as a whole, these factors will make China's demographic problems show up sooner rather than later.
I'd also like to comment about the role of aging. Aging occurs for two reasons. The first is the lack of replacement of deaths by births. The second is the tendency of people to live longer. The burden in terms of heath care and assistance with living is very high with those over 80, who are the fastest-growing part of our population, not to mention the fact that by age 80 they have been collecting old age benefits for many years..
Also, the "replacement" magic figure is 2.1, not 2.
Lastly, Japan chooses not to encourage or allow immigration. Japan will just get older and older.
-Steve , Thailand
8 March 2013
@kumar, get over with it ...
Immigration if managed correctly can enrich a society instead of degrading it.. ofcourse, you need to know what you re doing.
Lets not do immigration the france way with preference for relatives and relatives of relatives of north african immigrants many of whom live in ghettos off of state welfare sucking the blood out of the economy like parasitic leeches.
Lets do immigration like Canada and Australia where the most skilled and productive immigrants get residency based on a point system based on how qualified and educated they are.
woe is us that the US is doing it France style here and not Australia style..
-Gary R , miami, FL
7 March 2013
I agree, I think Kumar has lost it.
-Leon Cross , United States
7 March 2013
I think Kumar has lost his paranoid delusional mind. It's a very interesting article, demography put in layman's terms. Congratulations to the author for making the effort to communicate academic findings to a broader audience, and what a pity that it evoked a lunatic response from the right honorable gentleman from Virginia with a South Asian name if I'm not mistaken.
-Wilbur , Pennsylvania
5 March 2013
immigration is ethnic warfare against white people. this is not an ideological battle between left vs right, GOP vs Dems, Statism vs liberty.
Love to all, hatred to no one, but why are hostile globalist elite supporting Israel as a Jewish ethnostate with Jewish only immigration, but turning white majority Europe and North America into a multi-ethnic multi-cultural Gulag with dystopian non-White colonization?
Why do gullible Whites kowtow like puppies to hostile Jewish elite, who maim White soldiers in bankrupting wars, infiltrate and subvert our central banks and intelligence agencies, indoctrinate us in classrooms and mass media, impose trillions in debt, and plunder our wages?
East Asia is 99% yellow. Africa is 99% Black. West Asia is 99% Brown. But 3rd world colonizers are annihilating Whites, just as Chinese colonizers are annihilating Tibet. That is the endgame.
"Native" Americans are not native. They invaded from East Asia. They massacred Solutrean White Europeans, who came first. Whites were not the only slave owners, imperialists. Muslims, Jews, Chinese, Indians, Mayans, Africans all are guilty of slavery, imperialism. Whites were victims of Arab, Jewish, Turk, African, Mongol imperialism, slavery.
White people should reject suicidal anti-White Jewish ideological plagues like libertarianism, feminism, liberalism, socialism. Whites should reject venomous smears of racism and anti-semitism.
Love to all, hatred to no one, but White people must unite and organize to advance their families, their fertility, their interests.
-kumar , Virginia.
5 March 2013
Historically, Ancient Rome faced similar problems and one of the significant causes towards the fall of Rome was its inability and failure to address its immigration problems.
From what I have seen, the US seems to be much more resilient towards immigration than other countries whose populations are mostly homogeneous, the US being very diverse compared to most other countries.
I have not done enough research in this topic yet but from what I have done, anti-immigration is definitely not the right rhetoric to adopt,
-Leon Cross , United States