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The Varsavsky Foundation
Avenida Bruselas 7, Planta 3
28100 Alcobendas
Madrid, Spain

The political blog of a social entrepreneur

Why Is It That Immigrants Have So Many Children?

El Pais, Spain’s leading newspaper, reveals today that while 10 years ago 1.81% of all new babies were born out of immigrant families, the figure last year was 17.6% and is rapidly rising. Since immigrants represent only 8.5% of the population, these figures show a huge difference between the number of babies that native-born Spaniards and immigrants have.

In the case of Spain, the native-born population has birth rates of 1.3 and immigrants of 3 (2.1 is needed to keep the population constant). But Spain is but one example of the many rich countries in which immigrants have many more children than native populations. My friend Paul Meyer, founder of Voxiva, debated this phenomenon. Paul argued that while native citizens of rich countries, see children as a financial burden, immigrants still see children as a kind of retirement plan. While I do agree to some extent with Paul and think that wealth has become a social contraceptive (all over the world as societies get richer their citizens bear less children), I am not sure that economics explains the whole phenomenon. If concerns over the cost of raising children was the main consideration, Europeans who enjoy free education and free medical care would have more children than Americans. But they donĀ“t.

Personally, I think that immigrants have more children than the native-born population in rich countries for a more relevant reason than financial planning. One reason is religion. Europe is now mostly atheist or agnostic but immigrants are frequently religious and more willing to carry through with unwanted pregnancies. Nevertheless, my theory is that the most important reason why immigrants have double the amount of children than the native-born in Spain and well off countries is that they represent the segment of the population who is most likely to have children wherever they are in the world. At home or abroad.

The native-born populations in wealthy countries tend to view immigrants as poor people from poor countries. But this is not the case. Even if they are frequently poor, these immigrants represent the most entrepreneurial and optimistic subset of the native-born population in poor countries. The ones who leave. The ones who want to get ahead: those who are the most optimistic risk takers.

Emigration is a risky enterprise based on sacrifice and immigrants are the people who went through this filter and survived. My explanation of why immigrants have more kids is that they represent the part of the population that in any country would have more kids, namely the optimists, the ones who think that their children will lead a better life than themselves, the ones who are used to sacrifices in life and who do not see the sacrifice of child raising as a big burden. Moreover I think that in America birth rates are higher than Europe because USA is a country of immigrants who are by nature more optimistic than those who their ancestors left behind.

I believe that it is the unique, particularly driven personality of immigrants that makes them more likely to have children. We immigrants (I am an Argentine immigrant in Spain and proud father of 4) believe that we are bringing kids to a better world than in our native countries and are willing to make the sacrifices that it takes to raise them.

Some statistical facts:

US natives have about two children on average; immigrants have 2.7 children on average. In 2000, the U.S. fertility rate of 2.06 – close to the replacement rate of
2.11- was considerably higher than that of the major industrialized countries of Europe.

In Europe, coherent data is difficult to assemble, since European countries categorize immigrants, foreign-born, and citizens in different ways. However, while 2.1 children per woman is considered to be the population replacement level, these are national averages: Ireland: 1.99, France: 1.90, Norway: 1.81, Sweden 1.75, UK: 1.74, Netherlands: 1.73, Germany: 1.37, Italy: 1.33, Spain: 1.32, Greece: 1.29.

Posted on February 17, 2007