This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

A Convergence of Civilizations

I recently read (and very much enjoyed) "A Convergence of Civilizations" by Youssef Courbage and Emmanuel Todd, who are researchers at INED, the French National Institute for Demographic Studies. This book was published originally in French but was translated and published this year in English by Columbia University Press. The book is what I would call an "interpretive essay," in the sense that the authors are attempting to interpret a broad temporal and geographic range of data trying to understand why rates of population growth are so high in some Muslim countries, in particular, although not so high in others. The basic premise is that the supposed schism in the world between Islam and the "West" is not a real phenomenon. Rather, all less developed nations, including those that are predominantly Muslim, are heading toward modernity through lower fertility and the key is the timing of literacy--especially for women, but also for men. It is literacy that matters in the world, not religion. As the authors note in their introduction:
The explanatory variable [for a decline in fertility] that has been most clearly identified by demographers is not the per capita GDP, but the literacy level of women...The elimination of illiteracy, then, points back to a  classic conception of universal history, that of the Enlightenment or the nineteenth century, as Condorcet conceived of it in his "Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind," or Hegel in his "Lectures on the Philosophy of History." It has no doubt gone a little out of fashion, but it remains relevant.
I could not agree more and I encourage you to read the book and see why the Enlightenment and literacy are still key elements in the world and will almost certainly influence the course of events over the next few decades.

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