Economist.com | Demography and the West: "Half a billion Americans?
Aug 22nd 2002 | WASHINGTON, DC
From The Economist print edition
Demographic forces are pulling America and Europe apart. If the trend goes on, it will fundamentally alter America's position in the world
FORGET transatlantic rifts about trade, Iraq, Kyoto, or the International Criminal Court. These have been thoroughly ventilated. One area of difference has not got the attention it deserves: demography. It may prove the most important of all.
For 50 years, America and the nations of Western Europe have been lumped together as rich countries, sharing the same basic demographic features: stable populations, low and declining fertility, increasing numbers of old people. For much of that period, this was true. But in the 1980s, the two sides began to diverge. The effect was muted at first, because demographic change is slow. But it is also remorseless, and is now beginning to show up.
America's census in 2000 contained a shock. The population turned out to be rising faster than anyone had expected when the 1990 census was taken. There are disputes about exactly why this was (more on that shortly). What is not in doubt is that a gap is beginning to open with Europe. America's fertility rate is rising. Europe's is falling. America's immigration outstrips Europe's and its immigrant population is reproducing faster than native-born Americans. America's population will soon be getting younger. Europe's is ageing.
By 2040, perhaps earlier, America will overtake Europe in population
Unless things change substantially, these trends will accelerate over coming decades, driving the two sides of the Atlantic farther apart. By 2040, and possibly earlier, America will overtake Europe in population and will come to look remarkably (and, in many ways, worryingly) different from the Old World."