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 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 don´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.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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Timo Heuer on February 18, 2007  · 

Wow, that’s a very nice article about a very nice subject. I think the reason with the religion is very good, but not the only.

In Germany it is the same! I’ll also write something about that now :).

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Olivier Bassil on February 18, 2007  · 

Grent article. This is very true, and unthought of, as far as I know.
Immigrants are the most respectable human beings for that matter. They are pro-active, entrepreunarial people who are not afraid of undertaking their life projects across boundaries and borders.

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Barbara Anderson on February 18, 2007  · 

Martín: me gustó mucho este análisis. Me llamo Barbara Anderson, soy editora de la revista de negocios más importante de México (Expansión) y desde hace 5 años dejé mi Cordoba natal en la Argentina para buscar ’emprender’ nuevos desafíos.
Tenemos una sección de opinión con columnistas muy interesantes (como Thomas Friedman o Jack Welch) y me gustaría mucho poder reproducir ésta en la que hablas de la inmigración, sin dudas un tema muy candente en Mexico, en nuestra revista.

Un saludo

(mi novio Andres llevó un par de foneras a Cba. en nuestro viaje de las navidades, gracias a las gestiones del buen amigo Eduardo Arcos)

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andi on February 19, 2007  · 

I have read somewhere that immigrants that come to Sweden tend to have fewer children than the average person in the country they left. Would be interesting to see statistics.
But then there probably are those that would say that the ones that come to Sweden are the lazy ones that want to live off the welfare system. I doubt that is true though, I think I would prefer life in a villa miseria than living off benefits in a Swedish suburb.

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Alan Bell on February 19, 2007  · 

there is also the average age of immigrants to consider. I suspect it is mainly people in their 20s and 30s who don’t already have children in schools etc. so they are more free to emigrate. This doesn’t affect the total number of children per family but will mean that the number of immigrant children will seem high compared to the increase in the adult population.

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euronerd on February 19, 2007  · 

cultural background, unemployment rates, differences in wealth, access to preservatives, access to health care, language barriers, social isolation, discrimination.
To name a view other reasons.

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Homo Viator on February 20, 2007  · 

Interesting argument you got there. Linking it to my last blog entry about the EU East expansion I would conclude that the EU must not only open its borders wider for immigration, but integrating Turkey into the EU may be saving Germany´s health care system and thus ensuring economic stability in the long run. Let me also say that Kreuzberg is Berlin’s most friendly, entrepreneurial and now even trendiest area. Kreuzberg is the area of choice of Turkish immigrants coming to Berlin; Berlin being the world’s third biggest Turkish city, after Instanbul and Ankara. When will right wing populists begin to understand that immigration is a key component of a globalized new world order and protection against it is like protecting inefficient industries by imposing tariffs and duties: Ineffective! Even if increased immigration may in a worst case scenario (although England and Spain have proved us wrong) lead to raised unemployment rates in the short term, this is far offset by its benefits to the healthcare system in the long run. This just talking financial here, not to mention how cultural diversity may instigate socio-economic developments in other areas.
By the way: It was great meeting you at the DLD conference. I am Nina´s friend Niko and finally off the crutches. Saludos!

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LS on February 20, 2007  · 

Muy bonito análisis, Martín. Gracias.

Esta es una de las partes que más me gustó:

“… 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. …”

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Massimo Moruzzi on February 20, 2007  · 

Thanks for your very interesting perspective, Martin! I do, however, think that you may be overlooking three crucial elements:
-age (immigrants tend to be young)
-relative well-being in their new country (they may seem poor to us, but they’re much better off than they would have been had they not left home)
-more faith in our countries than we have (even as many of us see our societies less open to social mobility and newcomers than they were decades ago, it still looks very rosy to people accustomed to very closed societies)

do you know how small the font is for those commenting with Firefox? Like font-8 (…) 🙂

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Valentin1979 on February 22, 2007  · 

I got another idea.

Maybe they have more children also because they recreate a proximity family ; because their family is still in the original country.

So the more children they have, and the less alone they feel.

It’s not the main reason but maybe one of the valuable reasons.

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laurance Ottley on January 31, 2009  · 

Of course the birth rate is higher in Spain: warm breezes, good wine, feista, spending part of the afternoon in bed. It is a sexy country! But now it is the immigrants having all the fun while the natives obsess over their wealth it seems.
In the UK, succeeding generations of Indians and Pakistani immigrants are having smaller families, but then, over here, it is too cold to drop yer’ trousers most of the time.

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