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Is summarized below for each state (source) – and it shows some very interesting patterns.


The average life expectancy of Asian-Americans (86.5 years) is 4 years higher than in Japan – the longest-lived big East Asian country. Taiwan and South Korea are at around 80; Hong Kong is at 83; Singapore is at 81. The other East Asian countries aren’t developed yet, so there isn’t much point in comparison.

The LE of Latinos is 82.8, which is 6 years more than in Mexico, 4 years more than in the longest-lived Latin American countries and even a year higher than in Spain (one of the longest-lived European countries). This is despite the fact that obesity rates among Hispanics in the US is very high – higher than those of whites.

On average American whites can expect to live to just 78.9 – the same as in Chile or Denmark (the shortest-lived Western European country). A most curious anomaly, given their higher SES and lower obesity rates relative to Hispanics.

Blacks can expect to live around 74.2 years. This is far higher than in any African country, but the comparison is flawed for obvious reasons. It is however pretty close to the life expectancy in predominantly mulatto Caribbean countries like Jamaica (73 years) or the Bahamas (75 years), countries which are more suitable for comparison.

Native Americans average 76.9 years, though they are spread out all across the spectrum – ranging from 80 in California, to 69 in Montana.

Some questions and issues to ponder:

(1) The influence of diet and lifestyle: This is pretty clear-cut in the case of the Native Americans; the groups with life expectancy at around ~70 are no doubt brought down by those of them who live in alcohol-soaked reservations. This is the same life expectancy in Russia and some other former Soviet countries, where binge drinking of spirits is likewise prevalent. But it is genuinely interesting to consider why Latinos, who are more obese than whites, nonetheless manage to live so consistently longer – both relative to white Americans, and even to Spaniards. Likewise for Asians – although Asian-Americans are inevitably more influenced by American food habits than East Asians in their own countries – which are said to have far healthier national cuisines – they nonetheless manage to live significantly longer than them.

(2) The influence of the US healthcare system: It is frequently slammed and denigrated, but how to explain that the two biggest immigrant groups – Latinos and Asians – live a lot longer than in their countries of origin (including the developed ones)? Conversely, why would white America, if it were a separate country, be at near the very bottom of the life expectancy charts compared to Western European countries?

(3) One rejoinder is that immigrants to the US are better-educated, higher-IQ, and/or richer than the average in their countries of origin. As such, they are expected to have a higher life expectancy anyway. But this is patently not the case regarding Hispanics, and only partially true regarding Asians (Chinese Americans include both low-class indentured laborers who migrated in the 19th century, as well as far more commercially successful recent migrants from the Chinese diaspora of South-East Asia; the Japanese-American community is mostly descended from low-class laboring immigrants from the 19th century).

(4) The r/K selection theory plausibly explains the Black – White – Asian life expectancy sequence, especially in the US where they all share more or less the same cultural and healthcare environment. The case of the Latinos, however, remains rather shrouded; one possibility is that Amerindians (which is what many Hispanic immigrants to the US predominantly are) are more K-selected than whites – they did, after all, branch off from the proto-Mongoloids – and thus naturally have higher life expectancies than whites.

(5) Asian-Americans and Latinos are younger than whites. This does not have a direct effect on life expectancy (unlike on crude mortality), but with a greater ratio of young people to elderly – not to mention stronger family values – it does perhaps mean that elderly Asian-Americans and Latinos get more attention and care from their family members, thus reducing stress/depression levels and enabling them to eke out one or two more years than they would have otherwise.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
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One of the standard memes about Russia’s demographic trajectory was the “Russian Cross.” While at the literal level it described the shape of the country’s birth rate and death rate trajectories, a major reason why it entered the discourse was surely because it also evoked the foreboding of the grave.


But this period now appears to have come to a definitive end. Russia’s population ceased falling around at about 2009; in the past year, it has increased by over 400,000 thanks to net immigration.

Meanwhile, against all general expectations, the birth rates and death rates have essentially equalized. Whereas in 2011 natural decrease was still at a substantial 131,000, preliminary figures indicate that it has subsided to a mere 2,573 for this year. It could just as easily turn positive once the figures are revised. For all intents and purposes, the “Russian Cross” has become the “Russian Hexagon.”


This is a momentous landmark in many ways.

(1) More than anything else, Russia’s demographic crisis during the past two decades has been advanced as a quintessential element of its decline. Phrases such as the aforementioned “Russian cross”, the “demographic death spiral”, and “”the dying bear” proliferated in respectable journals and books. Until a few years ago, some entirely serious demographic projections had Russia’s population falling to as low as 130 million by 2015. This “deathbed demography” imagery was in turn exploited by many journalists to implicit condemn the rottenness of the Russian state in general and Putin in particular. Will they now rush to trumpet Russia’s demographic recovery, which was only possible through directed state intervention to improve the population’s health, cut down on the alcohol epidemic, and provide generous benefits for families with second children? For some reason I suspect the amount of ink that will be spilt on this will be but a tiny, minuscule fraction of that used to herald Russia’s demographic apocalypse. They will predictably move on to other failures and inadequacies – both real or perceived.

(2) For many years there has existed the notion among some demographers that once a society’s total fertility falls to a “lowest-low” level, there can be no return. It was theorized that the social values of childlessness and small families would spread, and that the resultant rapid aging would make it impossible for young families to have many children anyway. Russia’s total fertility rate fell to a record low of 1.16 children per woman in 1999, but rose above 1.30 in 2006, reached 1.61 in 2011, and rose further to an estimated 1.70 in 2012. It is thus so far the biggest and most important exception to this “lowest-low fertility trap hypothesis.” In reality, what was actually happening was that many Russian women were postponing the formation of families – a process common to most nations that reach a certain level of development. This in turn laid the foundations for the mini-baby boom that were are now seeing.

(3) There was likewise widespread pessimism that Russia’s life expectancy would ever significantly improve for the better. In the best case, it was assumed it would creep upwards, reaching 70 years or so in another few decades. However, the experience of other regions with Russia’s mortality profile, such as North Karelia in the 1980′s or the Baltic states in the 2000′s – very high death rates among middle aged men who drank too much – suggested that rapid improvements are possible with the right mix of policy interventions. This has happened. Russia’s life expectancy in 2012 was about 71 years, still nothing to write home about; however, it was higher than it ever was in the USSR, where it reached a peak of 70.0 years at the height of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign in 1987, and equal to Estonia’s in 2002, Hungary’s in 1998, and Finland’s in 1973. If it were now to follow in Estonia’s mortality trajectory – and this is not an unreasonable supposition, considering Russia is now passing the tough anti-alcohol and anti-smoking taxes and regulations typical of developed countries – it would be on track to reach a life expectancy of 75 years by 2020 (Putin’s goal of 2018 is however probably too optimistic).


In particular, it should be noted that the worst types of deaths – those from external causes – have been cut down the most radically. Though they only account for a small proportion of total deaths, they tend to happen at earlier ages and thus have a significant impact on the workforce and overall life expectancy out of proportion to their actual prevalence. A calculation from 2005 showed that the effect of a 40% decline in deaths from external causes would be as good as a 20% decline in deaths from all circulatory diseases at extending male life expectancy. This has been achieved; as of 2012 it was at 125/100,000, down from an average of about 250/100,000 during the “demographic crisis” period but still far, far short of the 40/100,000 rates more typical of developed countries with no alcoholism epidemics. But as I’ve said before and will say again, while Russia’s “hypermortality” crisis isn’t anywhere near as severe as it once was, it is nothing to write home about; a great deal remains to be done. But the trend-lines are pointing firmly down, and the economic crisis of 2009 had zero effect on the underlying processes. This is extremely encouraging, as it implies that Russia has now become a “normal country” in which improvements in health and mortality steadily advance regardless of economic fluctuations.

I have anticipated many of these developments, and indeed, ventured forth with projections of my own. Here are some predictions made on the basis of my research and analysis from 2008:

  1. Russia will see positive population growth starting from 2010 at the latest. CHECK.
  2. Natural population increase will occur starting from 2013 at the latest. CHECK.
  3. Russia’s total life expectancy will exceed 68 years by 2010 and reach 75 years by 2020. Looks increasingly LIKELY.

There is no need for false modesty. I put my neck on the line and came out best against most of the established expert opinion.

But this is no time to rest on laurels and reminsce on past glories. The 2010 Census is out. Demographic data up till 2012 is available. It’s been a long four years since I wrote that model. It is high time to update it. I’ve been planning to do that for my book anyway, but now that I think about it, why not publish a paper at the same time? I have long been a fan of open access anyway, especially as regards academia.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
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In this third part of my series on national comparisons between Britain, Russia, and the US, I look at the social institutions and infrastructure that play such a big role in our everyday lives. Why is Russia’s life expectancy ten years lower than in the US? What are the most popular university subjects? Where do they live and shop, and how do they get to work? RAFO.


The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) – free at the point of service – is, IMO, the best healthcare system of the three countries. Though waiting lines were a big problem a decade ago, New Labour has thrown a lot of money at them and nowadays lines are much shorter (though the system may well suffer now that the current government wants to “reform” it by cutting staff). Those who can afford it are free to use private healthcare providers or private insurance. The UK spends 8% of GDP on healthcare, and provides objectively better healthcare outcomes than the US system which occupies 16% of its GDP.

That said, the American system is better at some things: its medical technologies are the most advanced in the world and its hospitals are better equipped, and if you can pay for it – or if your insurance covers it – then you chances of surviving many forms of degenerative diseases are substantially higher than if you’re treated by the NHS. Also, emergency service is free; even if you’re an undocumented immigrant and have a heart attack, you will be treated at the EM ward and get that triple bypass. However, if you’re suffering from a wasting disease and aren’t insured, you are screwed. Also very problematic are minor, but painful and very inconvenient problems, such as a chipped tooth. What you can fix in Russia for a $50 fee, or get for free after several weeks of waiting from the NHS, may set you back by a cool $500 in the US.

PS. Speaking of dentistry… the Brits have a reputation for very bad teeth. But this is an outdated stereotype.

In Russia, compulsory medical insurance is paid out by companies, while treatment for indigents is provided by the state. However, with spending on healthcare a meager 4% of GDP, and many facilities in lack of repair and staffed by poorly trained specialists, treatment of chronic diseases in Russia remains fairly primitive in comparison with the US or the UK. It is wise to pay a “gift” to the nurses to ensure that you or someone you care about gets good treatment during your hospital stay; though it’s their job, their salaries are still very low, and such things are appreciated. This also applies to doctors. Call it corruption, call it a legacy of communism, or call it social support for healthcare workers, but it’s expected – especially from richer people – and refraining from it can make your stay a more unpleasant and dangerous one.

Life expectancy, at 69 years, is far lower than the 78 years in the US or the 80 years in the UK, but it is primarily not because of poor healthcare – Ingushetia, one of Russia’s poorest regions, but a “dry” Muslim republic, has a life expectancy of 78 years – but because of the alcohol and smoking epidemic (see below). The lowest life expectancies are in particularly run-down regions, especially those with big non-Russian (and non-Muslim!) minorities, as well as Siberia and the Far East; the highest life expectancies are in the Muslim Caucasus, the southern regions, and Moscow. In the UK, life expectancy is highest in the south, especially around London; and lowest in Glasgow at 73 years (not surprisingly, Glaswegians are also the most alcohol prone in the UK). In the US, the highest life expectancies are on the east coast and the west coast (including California), at around 81 years; the lowest, at 75 years, are in the South, the epicenter of America’s obesity crisis.

After a great deal of investment in recent years, the infant mortality rate has fallen to 7 / 1000 live births in Russia, which is the same as in the US, but higher than the UK’s 5 / 1000. To deal with the post-Soviet fertility crisis – the number of expected births per Russian woman dropped from a replacement level rate of 1.9-2.1 during the 1980′s to a nadir of 1.12 in 2000 – the government implemented pro-natality measures in 2007 that gave each woman a $10,000 payment for a second child. Since then, the fertility rate rose from 1.3 children per woman in the mid-2000′s, to 1.6 by 2010.

The UK’s fertility rate was 1.9 and the US fertility rate was 2.1 in 2008. Generally speaking, families of two children are the norm in both countries, while families with three or four children are also fairly common; in contrast, while the vast majority of Russian woman do have children, the typical family size is one or two children, with more being rare outside the Muslim Caucasus (where the fertility rate is about 2 children per woman). There are significant regional differences in all these countries. In the US, fertility rates are lowest in the highly urban North East, followed by the West Coast and industrial Mid-West; they are highest in the South and central states; Utah, with its Mormon population, is a very high outlier. In Russia, fertility rates are higher in rural areas, and to the east of the country, and amongst some traditionally Buddhist peoples of Siberia and in the Muslim south; the biggest single outlier is Chechnya.

Similar scenes are common throughout Russia.

Similar scenes are common throughout Russia.

Russia’s alcohol epidemic has no parallels outside the former Soviet Union (Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltic states suffer from similar problems), and is the main reason why its life expectancy lags nearly a decade behind the US and the UK. According to research, something like 25% of Russian deaths, both directly and indirectly, are caused by alcohol consumption. It is not unusual for the heavy drinkers to retreat to a multi-day vodka binge with like-minded friends, called a zapoi, and then go back to work and stay dry for a few weeks or months on end; and this occurs amongst men of all ages.

This excess mortality is especially concentrated amongst middle-aged men. Among young people, beer is displacing vodka, lessing the disparity relative to the US and Britain in recent years; while among old people, death rates begin to converge with Western ones, largely because any old Russians are typically those who rarely or never binged on hard spirits in the first place.

While Britain also has something of a binge drinking problem, it does not cause major health impacts on the population as a whole because most of it happens just one night a week, amongst people in their late teens and twenties with robust constitutions.

Many rural Russians even brew their own moonshine (samogon) – a relic of Gorbachev’s failed attempts at prohibition – which can be surprisingly good and sometimes even better than the bottled stuff. It’s certainly much better than DIY booze. Once upon a time when the vodka ended, our host didn’t want to end the party / binge, and mixed up a brew of medical spirit with water and slices of lemon. By that point we were probably too drunk to notice and certainly too drunk to care. The morning after consequences were unpleasant to say the least.

Alcohol prices are very low in Russia*. Last time I checked, you could buy a bottle of vodka for $3, and a two liter plastic bottle of beer for less than $2. In contrast, a bottle of vodka costs $15-20 in the US and a six-pack of beer is perhaps $8. However, wine can be pretty cheap. While good stuff costs $15+, the cheapest bottles can be had for $3, while a five liter Franzia pack costs $12.

* However, those days are coming to an end. Taxes on hard spirits are to be quadrupled through to 2015.

Smoking is far more popular in Russia than in the UK or the US. Only 20-25% of people smoke in the US and the UK; in fact, smokers are widely considered to be losers. In contrast, upwards of 60% of Russian men and about 30% of Russian women smoke. The share of the smoking population peaked from the early 1990′s (when the Russian tobacco market was liberalized) to the mid-2000′s. They have now started falling under the pressure of a state propaganda campaign against smoking (anti-smoking initiatives were began in the West almost three decades ago) and rising tobacco taxes. Nonetheless, cigarettes remain very cheap. Whereas a pack costs $5-8 in the US and the UK, you could buy one for just $1 in Russia as late as 2008. But as with vodka, the days of cheap cigarettes are now numbered.


The uniforms at Lancaster Royal Grammar School.

The uniforms at Lancaster Royal Grammar School.

Mandatory schooling in the UK consists of primary school for 6 years and secondary school for another 5. After that, many students go on to do three to five “A-Levels” in their chosen subjects for another 2 years and apply to university through UCAS. In total, about 40% of the population goes into higher education. It used to be highly subsidized by the government, but tuition fees were raised to £3,000 per year in the mid-2000′s and will be raised further to £6,000-9,000 from 2012 (in practice, all self-respecting universities will charge the highest rates, since failing to do so would signal lack of confidence in their own quality). These fees may be covered with a direct loan from the Student Loans Company, but will effectively act as a burdensome tax until they are paid off. IMO, it would behove the average British student to study at European universities, most of which are free or charge only symbolic rates. Typical UK programs offer a single program of study (e.g. Math; Fine Arts) for three years and are geared towards corporate applications.

Cambridge is the top ranked UK university, closely followed by Oxford. The two are called Oxbridge.

Cambridge is the top ranked UK university, closely followed by Oxford. The two are called Oxbridge.

There are 12 grades of US mandatory schooling, divided into: elementary, secondary, and senior high. In the latter, students work on the SAT’s and ACT’s that are required for university admission. The SAT’s are pretty basic, and mandatory; but other qualifications such as A-Levels or International Baccalaureates are accepted in lieu of ACT’s. About 70% of the US populations ends up with some kind of college education and there are far more mature or returning students than in the UK. In private universities, fees are high, but subsidies for poor families and scholarships are very generous. Ironically, public universities are actually less affordable for lower middle class families (though poor families get state aid). Any remaining lack of money can be made up with state subsidized loans. Finally, fees are very low in America’s excellent system of community colleges. The claims that most Americans can’t afford university are untrue; in fact, the US rate of tertiary enrollment is higher than in most European countries, which rations by limiting the numbers of available places.

Apart from the occasional truant, secondary schooling is universal in all three countries. All British pupils wear school uniforms, but it is infrequent in Russia, and very rare in the US.

Corporal punishment is still practiced in schools in the conservative states in the US, which is shocking to many Europeans. Russia abolished corporal punishment in schools in 1917. The UK abolished the practice in 1987, and extended it to private schools by the early 2000′s (under EU pressure); before that, the headmaster’s cane was a common cultural element amongst the boarding school graduates that formed the British upper middle class. E.g. see Roald Dahl on the matter.

Home schooling is legal in all three countries, but is by far the most widespread in the US. If I had to guess, it’s because of its large population of fundamentalists who don’t want their children to be exposed to the theory of evolution or sex education.

All three countries are fairly conservative (by mainland European standards) on sex education. In the US, the focus is on propagandizing abstinence only, which doesn’t seem to work if teenage pregnancy rates are anything to go by. Sex education remains highly controversial in modern Russia, but is no longer the taboo it was in the USSR. In the UK, most sex education focuses on the reproductive system, with coverage of contraceptive methods typically limited to a single class. Most mainland European states seem more progressive; a German acquaintance told me one of the sex ed assignments was to buy a condom and bring it to class.

U.C. Berkeley is the top ranked public university in the US. It has a lively protest culture. I took this photo at a demonstration against funding cuts.

U.C. Berkeley is the top ranked public university in the US. It has a lively protest culture. I took this photo at a demonstration against funding cuts.

The curriculum in US universities is far broader than in Britain. In contrast to the latter’s hyper-specialization, Americans place a particular stress on the value of a well-rounded “liberal arts” education; in addition to a chosen major, students are encouraged and frequently required to take classes in history, math, literature, etc. So despite the typical US undergrad degree lasting four years as opposed to the British three, the average American student only spends perhaps 2-3 years on her major; on the upside, she emerges more knowledgeable on the world in general. The US doesn’t have rigidly structured programs for particular subjects, as with Britain; as long as the requisite units have been taken by the end of the four years, the student gets his degree. To take U.C. Berkeley as an example, you need 120+ units to graduate; each class is worth three to five units; and you typically take about four classes per Fall and Spring semester (and perhaps one or two classes during Summer).

Mandatory schooling in Russia lasts for 10 years, and consists of 11 grades (the 4th grade is bizarrely missing). Traditionally, universities admissions were based on school grades, and in the case of elite universities, written and oral exams in the proposed field of study. Recently, this system has been replaced by the Unified State Exam, which is to be taken by every school leaver and used in all university admission applications. The idea is to make the process fairer and more transparent. About 70% of Russians go into a Higher Education Institute (VUZ), which can be a university, academy, or specialized school. The typical undergrad program at a university lasts four years, follows by a two year Masters. Students take classes from different departments in the first period, and spend an increasing proportion of time on their chosen subject later on. University fees are AFAIK much lower than in the US or the UK, but state stipends for students are miserly; there is intense competition for the limited fully subsidized places.

Many poorer American students take part-time jobs to fund their university study; many others work to begin building their career (e.g. it is common for both US and UK students to intern at investment banks, IT companies, etc. during summer). Fewer young people work in Russia; university study is more typically expected to be a full-time job. However, its system of distance learning and evening classes is arguably far more developed – a legacy of the Soviet focus on expanding economic opportunities to ordinary workers, e.g. a Volga fisherman doing problems on math and engineering sent to him from an educational institute, in preparation for transferal into the oil industry.

Most universities in the US tend to be private, albeit there are some excellent public schools too. In Britain and Russia, almost all universities are public. I don’t really see the need for most UK universities to remain under state control; with the recent reforms, they will get very little funding from the state anyway, so why continue bothering with their red tape and regulations?

The marking systems differ. In British schools, everyday school grades are numerical, with a 1 being best and a 5 being worst; however, in national exams, an alphabetical scale is used (A* is best in GCSE’s, and recently in A-Levels too; a C is a pass, while anything lower is a fail). In Russia, the order is reversed, with a 5 being best (pupils who consistently get these are called otlichniki, lit. “outstanders”; proudly by their parents, and disparagingly by their classmates) and a 2 being worst (pupils who specialize in these are called dvoichniki, lit. “two-ers”). In the US, an A is the best grade, a C is a pass, and an F is a fail. The marks for different subjects are computed into a Grade Point Average (GPA), with an A counting as a 4.0; an A- as a 3.7; a B+ as a 3.3; a B as a 3.0; a C as a 2.0; etc. To get into a good British university, you’ll need mostly A’s, with a few B’s; to get into a good American university, you need a GPA higher than 3.5 and a good extra-curricular record.

In US universities, having a GPA of less than 2.0 is regarded as a fail, and grounds for expelling a student unless he improves. Having a GPA above 3.3 is very much recommended from a future employment perspective; to get into decent graduate schools, law schools and medical schools, a GPA of 3.7-4.0 is expected. In British universities, the undergraduate degree classification goes, from best to worst: 1st, 2:1, 2:2, 3rd, pass, fail. Those with a first-class or upper second degree enjoy the best job prospects. During the Soviet period, graduation certificates were either Red (theoretically better) or Blue (theoretically worse), but in practice few paid attention to them because it was possible and even typical for geniuses to get Blues because they did badly on their obligatory and ideologized (Marxist-Leninist) political economy exams. I don’t know how degrees are classified in today’s Russia.

There has been a lot of grade inflation in the US and the UK in recent years. This is especially visible at private, prestigious US universities like Yale: it is hard to get anything less than a B (equivalent to a C at public institutions). After all, why would parents pay over the roof for their children to end up with crap grades? The same processes can be observed in the British national exams, GCSE’s and A-Levels, to the extent that top-tier universities are now creating their own entrance exams because it is hard to separate the top flyers from the merely competent.

Economics and related disciplines (Business, Management, Marketing, etc.) have become the most popular subjects in Britain, Russia, and the US. With the exception of Applied Math* and Computer Science – useful for finance and IT, the two most dynamic, high-paid and prestigious sectors in all three countries – the hard sciences (e.g. Physics, Chemistry, Engineering) are withering away, though the extent of the degradation varies (most advanced in Britain, least advanced in Russia). Though there is concern about this process in all three countries, I view this as a natural consequence of post-industrial development. Other disciplines that have grown in popularity include History, Legal Studies, and Political Science. There has also appeared a plethora of degrees in Media Studies, Women’s Studies, etc., in all three countries; they are popularly dismissed as “fluff” or “doss” subjects, and certainly offer substandard employment prospects.

* For whatever reason, it is “math” in American English and “math s” in British English.

The process of becoming a doctor or lawyer varies by country. In the US, universities rarely offer classes in medicine. Instead, “pre-meds” are required to take a number of classes in fundamental sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Physics, Math) while doing any degree they wish (though in practice most pick something like biochemistry). The aspiring lawyer tends to take classes in subjects like Legal Studies, History, and Political Science. There is intensive competition for places at law and medical schools, so only those with the highest GPA’s, and the best MCAT’s (Medical College Admissions Test) and LSAT’s (Law School Admissions Test), get in. After several more years of study, and apprentice work at a hospital or law firm, a new doctor or lawyer appears in America.

In Britain, both Medicine and Law are studied as subjects at university for three years. As I understand it, the apprenticeship with a hospital or law firm follows immediately afterwards. On average, US doctors seem to be better trained than British ones; at least, whereas an American doctor would have no problem establishing himself in the UK, the reverse does not apply (not to even mention a Russian doctor).

Which country has the best education system? The results of international standardized tests show that there is little difference between the three countries. Russia does slightly worse on the PISA tests than the US, and the US does significantly worse than Britain; on the other hand, Russia tends to do slightly better on the TIMMS and PIRLS tests. So it’s hard to say. If I had to make a generalization, I’d say math and hard sciences are taught better in Russian schools, whereas the British and Americans are better at developing argumentative and essay writing skills.

In writing and literature, Russian schools are more into rote learning and learning by repetition, as opposed to analysis and evaluation. (Whereas Americans and Britons undoubtedly write better essays, Russians quote their national writers and poets nonstop; even I can still recall some of Aleksandr Pushkin’s poems that had been drilled into me at an early age, and my grandma seems to know the entire Russian literary canon by heart.)

Moscow State University is usually the top ranked Russian university.

Moscow State University is usually the top ranked Russian university.

The situation is clearer in higher education. According to the most famous ARWU global universities rankings, Russia has just 2 institutions in the Top 500, compared with 154 for the United States and 38 for the United Kingdom. However, it’s important to stress that these rankings aren’t primarily reflections of universities’ quality of education, but of their funding and international prestige. The scientific programs at Moscow State, MIPT (host to several Nobel Prize winners, but not even on ARWU’s lists), and the top 10 or so Chinese institutions for that matter are easily as rigorous as MIT or Cambridge. It is ridiculous to say, relying on ARWU, that education is better at the University of Lancaster or the University of Reading – decidedly middling UK institutions – than the University of St.-Petersburg, Russia (which produced the researcher who would make what is probably the biggest mathematical achievement of the past decade). The Times Higher Education ratings are even more overtly biased in favor of Anglo-Saxon institutions.

These rankings should all be more properly considered as global university reputation rankings. In many parts of the world, the simple ownership of a university degree from the US or the UK – no matter the subject, no matter even the performance – confers a great deal of respect and lucrative job offers. That is why Gadaffi’s son paid a $1.5 million “donation” for his London School of Economics degree and some Chinese pay as much as $20,000 for degrees from fake Californian universities. It is common for oil rich countries like Oman or the UAE to pay for their well-connected citizens to get papers from some middling British university and present them with a secure administrative job on their return. Dependent on this money, lower-ranking UK universities practically never fail these students, no matter how little they study. Russia’s attitude to Western degrees isn’t quite as absurd as that of the Arabs; nonetheless, when choosing between a Moscow State graduate and an equivalent LSE graduate, the Russian employer will typically give the job to the British-educated applicant.

While judging these things is hard, I would say that the level of theoretical knowledge gained by students at Russian universities is no worse than at equivalent British or American universities; possibly, even better (note that the standard Russian undergraduate degree lasts six years, as opposed to four in the US and three in the UK). However, Russian universities fail big-time when it comes to applying their research capabilities to corporate applications. This is in stark contrast to the US, where venture capitalists scour universities for the next big start-up, big corporations sponsor and head-hunt for talented students, and professors and departments strike up partnerships to develop innovative new products and services. The same process goes on at British universities, if at a more subdued pace.

Russian universities are the successors to the Soviet system of higher education, whose biggest strengths were in math and theoretical physics, while the main applications were in military R&D. This made research hard to monetize in civilian markets in the context of the new market economy. But far more critical than these Soviet distortions was the state’s neglect of the academic sector throughout the 1990′s-early 2000′s. Scientific equipment has not been modernized, with the result that only a few top universities are still capable of conducting world-class research in spheres such as applied physics or microelectronics. Still more damagingly, many of the most brilliant, younger, and entrepreneurial people left Russian academia for the much bigger salaries of business or foreign academia. The result is that even in distinguished institutions, it is not uncommon to see professors in their 70′s continuing to teach subjects like math – not so much for the salary as love of their work – which is inspiring, but also very ineffective.

Now while it is true that some universities have begun to prosper and strike up corporate partnerships, e.g. Moscow State University with Yandex (Russia’s Google), this remains the exception rather than the rule. Academic salaries have risen massively in the past few years and continue increasing, but are still not competitive enough to draw back the academics lost to the 1990′s “brain drain” (see The Russian Diaspora in the second part of this series) or, more importantly, to retain the best current graduates. Until Russian academia is modernized and acquires a more commercial focus, it will not be able to play a major role in the development of Russia’s market economy.

Cheating is most prevalent at Russian universities, followed by American ones, and then British ones. In the former, it is not unheard of (though far from typical) to pay instructors for a passing grade. In the US, direct payments to instructors don’t pass muster (as in the UK) – nobody is going to risk their $60,000-$150,000 salary, secure job, and professional reputation by taking bribes. Cheating there is done more discretely, e.g. by paying professional essay writing companies for college essays (read here for a interesting account from one “shadow scholar”). These companies, BTW, are completely legal by dint of the First Amendment; though they all take care to stress that their essays are for purely educational persons, and shouldn’t be used for cheating, everybody understands that this is just the fine print.

More frequently, students simply plagiarize from the Internet. My impression is that it is endemic in all countries, and is only discouraged by a high rate of discovery and severe punishments. To this end, special programs have been developed to compare student essays and exams with comparable content on the Internet. I don’t know about the situation in Russia, but punishments tend to be severe for students caught plagiarizing in British and American universities.

Overall, university admissions are probably the most meritocratic in the UK. In Russia, though the system is supposed to be meritocratic, it is skewed by corruption, for it is not unknown for applicants to bribe admissions staff at the more prestigious universities, and certainly the children of oligarchs or powerful politicians – no matter their intellectual aptitude – experience few problems in getting into schools like Moscow State University or MGIMO. However, direct bribes have become more difficult in recent years, due to the national standardization of the exam system. The US is in between. Though direct corruption is as unheard of as in the UK, the system itself is rigged in favor of the rich and influential. The most egregious example of this is the open discrimination in favor of legacies, the children of former alumni of the university. The more your parents “donate” to the alma mater, the better their children’s chances of getting in. This reminds me of a Simpsons episode where the nuclear power tycoon Mr. Burns takes out his checkbook to negotiate a place in Harvard for his ne’er-do-well son Larry.

Man: Well, frankly, test scores like Larry’s would call for a very generous contribution. For example, a score of 400 would require a donation of new football uniforms, 300, a new dormitory, and in Larry’s case, we would need an international airport.

Woman: Yale could use an international airport, Mr. Burns.

Burns: Are you mad? I’m not made of airports!

This would be considered pretty repellent by Europeans (and most Americans too), but is only counted as corruption by the former. There are two other major examples of discrimination in university admissions to US colleges. First, good athletes – primarily American football players, rowers, and lacrosse players – are much more likely to get in with poor grades, as they bring their university money and recognition (this is also common in Oxbridge, UK, for rowers). Second, there is positive discrimination* based on race: due to their poorer academic performance in schools, African-Americans** and Hispanics have an easier time getting in on poor grades than whites or Asians. (Jews have a great time of it. Though they have the highest grades of any ethnicity, they are counted as whites for the purpose of university admissions.)

* This is not necessarily a bad idea. First, a higher education is absolutely necessary for all but the lowest-skilled careers in the US, and to enter the ranks of the elites (this is also the case in the UK and Russia). It’s in the interests of the American state – if not of ethnic Asians, who are disadvantaged by the system – that all races are adequately represented in higher education. Second, positive discrimination – in theory – is supposed to make up for the supposed discrimination that African-Americans and Hispanics suffer in schools (otherwise, why would their SATS scores be so much lower than the national average?). Abandoning it may be viewed as a politically incorrect admission that the reason their scores are lower isn’t because of systemic racial discrimination, but because of something else. The uber-controversial issue of race and IQ rears its head. So, curiously, despite its more right-wing stance on most social and economic matters, at least in this respect cultural Marxism goes deeper in the US than in Europe (including Russia and the UK).

** This translates to being black. Amusing anecdote: several years ago, a bunch of white South African students who are now American citizens applied for an academic prize for “African-Americans”. The awarding committee was not amused.

The most prestigious US universities belong to the Ivy League: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth College, Harvard, Princeton, Pennsylvania, and Yale. In particular, Yale University is known as a fostering ground for future Presidents. Other excellent universities, with lower social profiles, include Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, Chicago, and Carnegie Mellon. Academically, the foremost US universities include Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Caltech, Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, and Yale. The British elites go to Oxford (if they’re bright) or St.-Andrews (if they’re not as bright, e.g. heir to the throne Prince William). Cambridge is probably the most academically rigorous – certainly for the sciences, anyway – followed by Oxford, Imperial College, University College London (UCL), the London School of Economics (LSE). The most prestigious Russian institutes are Moscow State University; the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO), which trains Russia’s diplomats; St.-Petersburg State University; and the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Moscow.

Fake colleges and degrees are common in both Russia and the US. In the latter, they are mostly in fun sunny places like California and Hawaii.


Most Americans, Britons, and Russians don’t do sport regularly. None of these countries has the kind of mass fitness culture or “body culture” seen in Germanic and Scandinavian countries.

The kettlebell swing.

The kettlebell swing.

In Russia, the main divisions are seasonal: ice hockey in winter; football in summer. In Russia, kettlebells (girya) are a common site in gyms, whereas they are virtually unknown in Britain and the US. This is a shame since they are extremely effective at developing overall body strength.

In Britain, the lower classes play football and the upper classes play rugby and cricket (contender for most boring sport in the world).

In the US, basketball, American football, and lacrosse are the big sports; California is special in that skiing and surfing (IMO two of the world’s coolest sports, along with shooting) are both possible and very popular. The US is remarkable in the breadth and diversity of its sporting culture – you can find amateurs in practically anything.

The Russians are world leaders at chess, with plenty of very strong players. The British are also pretty good at it. Far fewer Americans know how to play it, and even state tournaments in the US are about as competitive as county tournaments in the UK or oblast tournaments in Russia (which have far fewer people). Of the world’s top 100 players, fully a quarter are Russian; three are English; and three are Americans – but of those, two have Russian names, and one has a Japanese name.

In the US, even dogs play poker.

In the US, even dogs play poker.

Just as many Russians will play chess or checkers, or the card game of durak (lit., “fool”), to pass away the time, Americans like to gather in groups of three or more to gamble in poker. Of course, gambling isn’t really the right term for poker, since the player with more skills will always win in the long-term. The popularity of poker has grown tremendously in recent years, with mathematicians getting involved in figuring out optimum play.

Thanks to its Asian population, the fascinating game of go, or weiqi, is also far better known in the US than in Russia or the UK. It is far more complex than chess; whereas in the latter the pieces can only move in certain ways around an 8×8 board, in go you can place stones on any unoccupied territory on a 19×19 board in an effort to encircle and capture your enemy’s stones. Whereas there are computer programs that can play chess at grandmaster level, none have yet been developed for go.

If checkers correspond to the linear warfare of (early) WW1, and chess to the mechanized combined-arms warfare of WW2, then go is the face of future war.


The ideal middle-class settlement for both British and Americans is suburbia. In theory, it combines city amenities with rural idyll; the critics aver that it is better at combining city pollution (noise, gas fumes, etc) with rural isolation. There are some excellent Amerian cities (e.g. San Francisco; Seattle; Austin), but many others are uncontrolled suburban sprawls (e.g. Los Angeles) or post-industrial shells beset by so-called inner city blight featuring ethnic ghettos and high crime rates (e.g. Detroit; Baltimore).

A typical Russian cityscape.

A typical Russian cityscape.

Most Russians live in apartments, in flats of varied age and construction quality. The Russians have a stricter division between high-density cities and low-density countryside, with a c. 100km band separating the two with a lot of intensive agriculture and dacha settlements (houses with plots of land) where Russians go during the weekends or holidays to tend to their vegetable gardens, pick mushrooms, etc. About half of Muscovites have a dacha, and they range from simple huts to luxurious mansions not very aptly called “cottages” (kotedzhi).

In all three countries – in contrast to central Europe, where renting is prevalent – most people own their own houses or apartments. Both the US and the UK place ideological stress on the virtues of private home ownership (extending mortgages to people of questionable creditworthiness was one of the key reasons of the 2008 financial crisis), while most Russians simply privatized their homes off the state during the 1990′s.

Housing prices have soared in Russia over the past decade to a far greater extent than in the US and Britain, but have fallen after the 2008 crisis; nonetheless, on average prices remain far below British and American levels. A typical, two-bedroom apartment in one of Moscow’s suburbs, not far from a Metro station, may cost $250,000; this will only buy you a semi-detached house in a middling British town, whereas an equivalent apartment in a London suburb will probably be closer to $1,000,000. In Moscow oblast, more than 100km from the city, a detached house with a big plot of land costs no more than $150,000; in the Russian regions, two-bedroom apartments are typically well below $100,000. In the US, as with Russia and the UK, there are great geographic disparities. Where space availability isn’t an issue, e.g. Texas, it is fully possible to buy fully detached houses with big plots of land for not more than $200,000; whereas in the Bay Area, excluding the ghetto areas, even a modest studio could set you back by up to $500,000.

PS. One more note on relative prices. In recent years, the media has made a lot of Moscow becoming the world’s “most expensive” city. It probably is… if you’re an expat addicted to five star hotels, top-class escorts, and champagne lounges. For ordinary people, who don’t live in Moscow’s center or its airports, living costs are still far cheaper.

America is the quintessential land of skyscapers; any city that is anywhere will have a few, to make up its financial district, while those in major cities such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco are world famous. They used to be practically non-existent in the USSR, except for the “seven sisters” Stalinist-era showpieces in Moscow. During the 2000′s, however, skyscraper construction has taken off, and most of the largest Russia cities now boast a few skyscrapers. During the euphoria of 2007-08, construction began on Russia Tower, which was to be at 600m the tallest skyscraper in Europe; however, financing for it collapsed after the 2008 economic crisis, and it remains in limbo to this day. In Britain, there are few skyscrapers. Most are of modest height and concentrated in The City (London’s financial district), including the infamous Gherkin.


A typical Russian city road.

A typical Russian city road.

British roads are good (though not as good as German ones), US roads are mediocre, and Russian roads are crap. Beyond Moscow’s ring road, many roads become potholed; further afield, e.g. the single road tying the Far East of the country to the center, it is little more than a dirt track that turns into impenetrable mud during the rasputitsa, or rainy season.

Part of the reason is that the country is vast, and that central planning with its penchant for railways didn’t care much for good roads or automobile ownership; another reason is that the road construction industry is, quite possibly, the most corrupt sector of the Russian economy (which is no mean achievement). The dismissed Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, is suspected of organizing kickbacks totaling billions of dollars to well-connected road construction companies in the Moscow region alone. Now there’s quite a bit of corruption in road construction in the US too – for instance, Massachusetts somehow managed to spend $15 billion on basically a couple of substandard tunnels in the Big Dig – but in Russia it seems to be the rule rather than the exception.

The vast majority of cars in the US are stick-shift, while a similarly vast majority of cars in Europe, including Russia and Britain, are manual-transmission. Petrol costs the same in both Russia and the US, and is about three times as expensive in Britain. Some cars in Russia run on natural gas.

Russian railways, on the other hand, are far better than their roads. They don’t offer amenities like free Wi-Fi, as British trains now do, but they make up for it in vastly lower costs. The price of a ticket from Manchester to London can approach £80. When I traveled from Moscow to St.-Petersburg in 2003, it was 500 rubles, or about $15 (granted it was on the lowest-class, because I was a cheapskate, but even getting a good class cabin for the overnight journey would have been well under British rates). As for US passenger railways, the less said the better. IIRC, it costs about $20 to go from San Francisco to San Jose, there’s no Internet, and after that the line ends.

Komsomolskaya Station, not the type of Metro station one would expect.

Komsomolskaya Station, not the type of Metro station one would expect.

The Moscow Metro carries up to 9 million passengers a day, and despite price rises, remains cheap. In contrast to the drab, utilitarian nature of most metro stations elsewhere, its central stations are truly “palaces of the people”, featuring murals, mosaics, statues and monuments, etc. A single journey costs a bit less than $1, while buying multiple journeys decreases the average price. Students and pensioners get to ride free. In the Soviet Union and early 1990′s, men would typically give up their seats to women, but this ended sometime by 1996. A victory for feminism? Or a collapse of moral standards? You decide.

Interesting factoid #1: Packs of stray dogs have become intelligent enough to navigate Moscow’s subways. You can sometimes see them lying or sleeping on the train benches. Read more here.

Interesting factoid #2: Russia’s most famous post-apocalyptic novel of recent times, Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky, is set in the Moscow Metro, where subterranean human civilization ekes our a miserable survival while nuclear radiation and mutants ravage the world above.

Most other big Russian cities also have metros, as do the biggest UK cities and most big cities in the eastern US. Mass transit is very poorly developed on the West Coast. Los Angeles is a giant car sink, with legendary traffic jams. San Francisco and the Bay Area have the BART system, but it’s not a pleasant riding experience and pretty expensive besides; plus, the train seats are full of germs and shit. Yes, shit, like for real: “Fecal and skin-borne bacteria resistant to antibiotics were found in a seat on a train headed from Daly City to Dublin/Pleasanton. Further testing on the skin-borne bacteria showed characteristics of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, the drug-resistant bacterium that causes potentially lethal infections…” Makes one wish for the cold, hard comfort of the wooden benches of an elektrichka.

Tramways used to be a major part of the urban transportation landscape in Russia, but their significance has decreased since the 1990′s; however, they still remain a prominent feature of the transportation system in some cities, including St.-Petersburg. They are no longer an important transportation mode in either the US or Britain.

Los Angeles, the epitome of suburban sprawl and poor city planning.

Los Angeles, the epitome of suburban sprawl and poor city planning.

Cars aren’t only at the center of US transport, but its life in general; if you live in suburbia or rural areas, you can’t get by without them. Big strip malls like Target, Walmart, Costco, etc., dot suburbia and serve the customers within a ten mile radius or so, having largely displaced local shops. The same process is ongoing in Britain, with a ten year lag. In Russia, car ownership is much lower than in the UK or the US; partly because of lower incomes, but also because they just aren’t as necessary, seeing as its cities are higher density and have cheap and adequate public transportation options (rail, metros, trams, buses). That said, Moscow’s traffic jams have become infamous in recent years, and nowadays only idiots – of whom there are a lot – commute to work by car there.

The US only seems capable of producing gas-guzzling SUV’s well, with the result that its automative sector collapses during oil spikes. Increasing fuel economy standards is a political hot potato, with Republicans set against it even though the US lags behind pretty much every country in the world in this respect (including China). The UK’s domestic brands have all collapsed, so the only cars there are foreign imports or produced by foreign-owned factories on its soil. It is not uncommon for Britons to buy their cars in Europe because of the high prices of cars sold in the UK. In Russia, the huge Avtovaz factory that produces the sturdy Lada (based off a 1970′s Italian design) just about survives with help from government subsidies and high tariffs on imported cars. Nonetheless, it doesn’t have a bright future, since most Russians would prefer to buy a second hand Audi or Toyota than a new Lada, even if the former costs a bit more. Whereas a decade ago most cars on the road were of visibly boxy Russian make, today’s (much bigger) car fleet seems to be more than 50% foreign; of the foreign makes, about half are imported and another half are manufactured by foreign-owned factories in Russia. A high proportion, e.g. about 50%, of vehicles on US roads are SUV’s; this percentage is closer to 10% in the UK and Russia. In France and Germany, SUV’s are very rare.

Flying is extremely prevalent in the US; it is frequently more profitable (and certainly faster) to take a flight from San Francisco to, say, Las Vegas or Los Angeles, than to make the journey by car (the only other valid transportation option). A typical round-trip starts from around $150. In Britain, to go from Manchester to London costs less by train than by plane, but not by much; many opt for the plane. Flights to Europe are cheap and very competitive; not infrequently, budget airlines like Ryanair offer amazingly good deals at prices like $50 for a round-trip to Prague, Munich or Barcelona and back. As for Russia, the days when you got on rickety Soviet-era planes with a shot of vodka for courage are over; most airlines have modernized their fleets. Air fares are competitively priced – the farthest off cities will cost about $500 for a round trip (e.g. Vladivostok), but common routes like Moscow to St.-Petersburg are around $100, and go even lower on the cheapest no-frills airlines.


Most shopping in the US and Britain – and increasingly, Russia – occurs in retail stores of varying size specializing in food, electronics, alcohol, cell phones, clothes, etc. These differ from high-end venues specializing in quality and fashion (e.g. Topshop) to mass consumer venues (e.g. Safeway, Tesco, ASDA, Walmart, IKEA) to those catering for lower-income people (e.g. Costco, Aldi); they are standardized, and it is often hard to tell the different between these shops be they in the US, Britain, or Russia. There are also plenty of ethnic stores (e.g. Chinese shops in the US, or Armenian shops in Moscow); they tend to sell interesting foods and wares that are rare elsewhere, but also tend to be more congested and less hygienic.

Online shopping is most advanced in the US, which has generated giants like Amazon and eBay. It is also prevalent in Britain, but much less so in Russia (though it is growing very fast).

The Cherkizovsky Market, Moscow's largest bazaar, recently closed.

The Cherkizovsky Market, Moscow’s largest bazaar, recently closed.

The outdoor market, or bazaar, is a prominent feature of Russian life. Located near railway stations and protected by private security, all kinds of vegetables, fruit, pickles, meat, fish, clothes, pirated video games – and even less legal things in their darker corners – are sold here. Food products are typically cheaper than in normal shops, and despite criticism over sanitary conditions, they are often fresher too.

These markets are typically dominated by migrants, though ethnic Russians are also prevalent. They will pay to set up a stall and hawk their goods to passers by. Haggling over prices is usual and expected. They are highly congested and thrum with the beat of commercial life. There are no effective formal controls over cheating – e.g. weighting vegetables incorrectly on purpose so as to extract a higher price – but is rare due to the potential reputational risk of doing so. With rising incomes and a decreasingly tolerant outlook by the authorities, due to the markets’ association with crime and illegal immigration, the prominence of these huge bazaars has fallen in recent years; nonetheless, they remain a favorite shopping place for the poor, pensioners, and even lovers of fresh fruit and vegetables (though buying meat or fish from them is less advisable). Such markets are much rarer in Britain or the US; in fact, most of them are temporary, only springing up on a certain day of the week.

Electronics are cheaper by about 30-50% in the US than in both Russia and the UK. I presume that is because the latter have higher tariffs? Books are far cheaper in Russia; typically, modern novels cost $5. In the US, they are usually $10, and £10 in the UK.

The luxury shopping mecca in Britain is Harrods, owned by controversial billionaire Mohammed Al-Fayed. Its equivalent in Russia is the GUM.

The US undoubtedly has the best cafes. Free WiFi (after buying a drink) is usual, even expected. This is much rarer in Britain, while Russia doesn’t even have a cafe culture as such*.

* Of course, Russia’s changing rapidly, and this might no longer be the case. I was last there in 2008, and for a substantial period of time in 2005, so much of what I say about it is already outdated. This is a point I emphasize throughout this series.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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In this post, I intend to disprove or at least question five commonly encountered myths about world demography (as I already did for Russia).

1. The Third World is experiencing a fertility-driven population explosion. Whereas this was true a generation ago, today most countries outside sub-Saharan Africa are in the later throes of demographic transition (the term “Third World” itself is no longer a very useful moniker). Not only is practically all of the industrialized world – Europe, the Anglo-Saxon world, Eurasia – at or below replacement level fertility rates (TFR), but countries like China, Turkey, Iran, Algeria and Brazil have joined them. Population growth in these countries is now driven primarily by the (artificially) low death rates and high birth rates typical of young populations.

As the map of world fertility rates below shows, there are now practically no regions outside Africa where women are expected to bear three or more children, even in traditional societies like the Middle East.


There are few exceptions. These include particularly poor countries like Pakistan (4.0), oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia (3.1) where resource wealth has charged ahead of socio-economic development, and countries like Israel (3.0) that are afflicted by conflict demography.

2. Fast-breeding Muslims will soon take over Europe and create a “Eurabia” Caliphate. This theory that fecund Muslims will stage a demographic takeover of Europe because of their innate hatred of Western civilization only really enjoys support from assorted yahoos like radical Islamists, European fascists and American neocons like Mark Steyn in his book America Alone (which I reviewed here). More serious demographers tend to dismiss these scenarios because they rely on many questionable assumptions such as the following:

  • There are already hordes of uncounted Muslims in the EU. At least on paper, that is not the case – most estimates give Muslims around 15m-20mn of the EU’s 450mn+ population; only in France do they approach 10% of the population. Though it is possible some are uncounted, there is no convincing evidence for this.
  • Muslims form a monolithic, illiberal entity resistant to secularization. While there are such pockets in Europe’s inner cities, Islam in Europe is so differentiated by ethnicity and levels of religiosity that it makes little sense to speak of a united Islamist front. The future of religious fervor is nigh impossible to predict, but the current pro-Islamist trend may – or may not – last as long as the post-colonial nationalist one from 1945 to the 1970′s.
  • Muslim fertility rates are much higher than native Europeans’ and will not converge to their level. As a rule, Muslim fertility in the EU tends to be around one child higher than amongst the indigenous population, though there are plenty of variations by region and Muslim ethnicity. Furthermore, these is a general trend towards convergence of Muslim fertility towards European averages. Though Muslims can be expected to keep expanding their share of the population due to their younger age profiles (lower death rates, higher birth rates) and immigration, at current trends they will not become majorities any time soon.
  • Europeans will take in ever bigger numbers of Muslim immigrants to support their failing welfare states. But most Muslim countries are already far advanced in their demographic transitions. Traditional people exporters like Turkey or the Maghreb are hardly bursting at the seams nowadays, and economic growth is bringing opportunities to their youth. Why would they want to migrate to sclerotic Europe that is, furthermore, becoming increasingly right-wing on immigration?
  • More Europeans will “revert” to Islam, while ever more Christians leave emerging Eurabia for America Alone. While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence for both trends, they do not seem to have any significant impact in absolute numbers.

In conclusion, all or most of these assumptions will have to be fulfilled for Europe as a continent to become endangered by the specter of “Eurabia” within the next decades. As it stands, however, the 1) retention of post-religiosity, 2) intensified clash of civilizations, or 3) return to fascism, must all figure as more likely scenarios for Europe’s future than the Crescent*.

3. Europe is a demographic abyss whose welfare states are doomed to collapse under their aging and shrinking populations. This is a favorite of American neocons and European right-wingers. Though this is a serious threat to some European states (particularly Club Med), the picture across Europe is far more varied and complex. In terms of their demographic health, there are three main groupings.


[The TFR's of the five biggest European countries 1960-2008. Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators - Last updated June 15, 2010.]

First, the Scandinavian states, France, and the UK have total fertility rates (TFR’s) of 1.7-2.1 children per woman, which corresponds to long-term demographic stability. Barring severe fiscal mismanagement or vulnerability to energy cutoffs (both most visible in Britain) their current welfare states are probably sustainable.

Second, the East-Central European nations have an uncertain future. Although their fertility rates plummeted during the early 1990′s, they may yet recover in the years ahead – though it is important that they do so before the big 1980′s cohort passes its child-bearing years. This is more likely in pro-natality and energy-rich Russia, less likely in indebted Hungary or crippled Latvia. Poland lies in the middle.

Third, the countries in the worst positions are in the Teutonic and Mediterranean regions. The German fertility rate fell well below the replacement level rate of 2.1 children per woman back in the early 1970′s and has since hovered below 1.5. They have not been replacing themselves for a full generation now – and with desired TFR’s at 1.8, the lowest in Europe, they are not going to start doing so any time soon. Their fall into a “death spiral” is now near inevitable, albeit its consequences will be mitigated by Germany’s enduring fiscal and industrial strength.

Though the TFR of Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece fell below 1.5 children per woman about ten to fifteen years after the Teutons, their futures may be even bleaker because they have unsustainable debt loads and few competitive export industries. Their coming economic collapse will pull them further into the demographic abyss.

4. People in developing nations are dying like flies. Much like the myth of their high fertility rates, this is no longer true in most cases. Most countries in Latin America, the Middle East, East Asia, and even South Asia have life expectancies above or approaching 70 years. This is not much different from the typical life expectancy in an advanced industrialized nation which is typically at 75-83 years. This is not surprising. Once a country acquires basic sanitation, obstetrics, vaccination and antibiotics services, life expectancy usually rises to around 70-75 years. Advanced – and very expensive – healthcare adds on the additional decade seen in the most developed nations.

[Beyond a certain minimal level of income, life expectancy approaches the boundaries of its theoretical maximum. Source.]

Today, the only world region that has not acquired the rudiments of basic healthcare is sub-Saharan Africa. Places where life expectancy is somewhat lower than expected relative to their income are 1) nations like South Africa or Botswana afflicted with uncontrolled AIDS epidemics and 2) post-socialist nations like Russia or Ukraine which drink far too much**. Likewise, even relatively poor or middle-rank countries like Cuba or Costa Rica can achieve developed nation life expectancies though good policies and health environments.

5. Demographic projections, such as those of the UN, are reliable for both individual countries and the world. In reality, they become largely useless after about a single generation.

First, fertility trends are extremely difficult to predict. Back in the 1920′s, one statistician’s “low scenario” indicated that France’s population would fall to around 29 million by 1980 based on a linear projection of current trends; in reality, it rose to 54 millions. Predictions of an Iranian population spiraling into the hundreds of millions in the 1980′s have been invalidated by the unprecedentedly rapid fertility decline in the Islamic Republic. Much the same criticism can be made of the apocalyptic visions generated by linear extrapolations showing Russia’s population falling to 100 million or less by 2050.

Second, these global forecasts all tend to ignore the intimate relation demographic trends have with the economy, politics, and the environment. According to the findings of the Club of Rome, the world’s population has already overshot its limits and cannot be sustained in the long term without major transformations. If their darker forecasts materialize, the world’s future demography could be determined by the geography of economic collapse, Malthusian crisis and climate refugees by as early as 2030.


[The alternate future of the Limits to Growth "standard run". Source.]

* I’ll be doing a more detailed post on the assumptions behind the Eurabia debate in the future.

** However, the alcohol epidemic mostly afflicts middle-aged men in Eurasia. It has little to no discernible impact on the mortality of women before or during their child-bearing years and as such does not much affect those countries’ long-term demographic prospects. Ironically, it actually strengthens their fiscal position, because many men die before reaching their retirement age.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.