February 21st, 2015
Demographics may sound like a boring subject, but it can bring about some fascinating stories. Two ‘facts’ in particular are fruitful conversation material. Rumour has it that there are now more people living on earth than were ever born in human history. And that this modern population is rapidly turning islamic, overtaking European culture within a few decades.
More people alive than dead
The first is a statement written in 1970, that keeps popping up in columns, art and all kinds of media trying to make an impression on their audience. It originally said that 75 percent of all people ever living are alive today. Some people have translated this into currently living people now even out-numbering the dead.
Since the modern world population is indeed growing excessively, it does make you wonder if the comparison is, or ever will be, true. If you look at this graph of the human population size since 10.000 BC, you understand what started the rumour. At first glance you would almost think that everything on the left side of the graph easily fits into the peak of the year 2000. But look better and you see this is not going to work.
According to the trustworthy website Worldometers there are now over 7.1 billion people living on earth. We will hit 8 billion in 2025 and 9 billion in 2045. But even then we still wouldn’t outnumber all the deceased ones in human history. Since 50.000 BC, with the appearance of Homo Sapiens, scientists estimate that a rough 106 billion people have been born. The current world population makes up just 6 percent of that number.
Mapping the global muslim population
Then there is the idea that this steady population growth is favouring the muslims. A YouTube movie called The Islamic tidal wave especially keeps this fear of islamification alive. It paints a fascinating picture of Europe, stating that in 15 years half of the Dutch population will be muslim, for example. And that the general fertility rate of muslims is 8.1, compared to Spain’s 1.1.
These ‘facts’ don’t represent what’s really happening. Sources aren’t named and numbers seem to appear out of thin air. On the following map of population growth in 2010, we see numbers of inhabitants actually may depend more on poverty and industrialization of the country, than on religion.
It is of course true that more and more muslims move to Europe, also influencing the colours on the map above. But it seems that once there, they undergo the same demographic changes as the original inhabitants experienced: fertility rates and religious participation rates drop.
Also in Islamic countries these changes are noticeable. Especially in big cities fertility is decreasing rapidly. Iran showed the most dramatic drop.In the last 30 years, fertility declined with 70 percent.
Photo: Flickr, M.A.J. Photography
Source: Worldometers, Worldbank
Eberstadt, Nicholas and Shah, Apoorva (2011). Fertility Decline in the Muslim World: A Veritable Sea-Change, Still Curiously Unnoticed Social Science Research Network DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.2022408
Phillip Connor (2008). Increase or Decrease? The Impact of the International Migratory Event on Immigrant Religious Participation Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2008.00405.x
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