Belfast Telegraph

Who breeds wins: falling birth rates pose challenges

By Mary Kenny

A remarkable cultural shift was apparent in the US over the past week: the New York Times disclosed that white Americans are now destined to be a minority in the future of the country.

Fewer than half of American births are now to white mothers: more than 50% are to black, mixed-race, or Hispanic families.

For some people, this might seem an alarming change: the US was constructed, historically, on its white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant basis.

The founding fathers were white Protestants who pioneered a new democracy with Bible and gun.

And until well into the 20th century, the icons of the US were overwhelmingly white Protestants - from the great wealth-builders like Andrew Carnegie and John D Rockefeller, to Wild West legends like Kit Carson (an Ulsterman, by heritage, just like John Wayne, Andrew Jackson and Elvis Presley) and Jesse James.

Blacks held inferior status in American culture - a theme which can be examined from American movies. Until well into the 1960s, American blacks only featured as servants, as in Gone With The Wind. Most American whites didn't know any black people, except in the context of service, or boxing and athletics.

That all began to change with the 1960s civil rights movement and a conscious effort at cultural change by the post-1960s generations.

And now the change is so dramatic that, if culture reflects society, white Americans should be the invisible ones, as their birth rate falls increasingly behind those of different ethnicities.

But why would anyone mind, or care, about the future ethnic composition of the US? President Barack Obama has made the breakthrough as the elected leader of the US and his mixed-race background is a fitting symbol of a diverse America.

In a paradoxical way, the higher birth rate of African-Americans and Hispanic Americans is probably good news for cultural conservatives.

Hispanic Americans (who are in the majority Catholic) and African-Americans (who are often Evangelical or Pentecostal Protestants) are more likely to have conservative views when it comes to social issues.

When President Obama came out in favour of gay marriage, he received warm words of congratulations from George Clooney and generous campaign contributions from wealthy gay donors. But among American blacks, there was a more muted response.

Ireland is an interesting example of a balance of cultures: the Irish birth rate continues to be above replacement level, possibly because there is still a strong deposit of faith values among the people.

In spite of the polemics about 'over-population', the old demographic principle still prevails: who breeds wins. If you don't replace your own population, your tribe will decline.

Doris Day America is no more and, in most ways, that's a good thing. But prepare for surprises among the changing cultural patterns.

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