Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Fear of Terrorism and Immigration May Affect Birthrate

It's always difficult to know how much weight to assign to a survey that some company or organisation commission. Commissioning a survey's a bit like getting a consultancy in to do a report and make some recommendations - with the right steer (and the right company - I'm sure YouGov are as squeaky-clean as can be) you can get the report and recommendations you want. You pay us - and we'll tell you what you want to hear.

With the survey the usual aim is to get media coverage. The BBC, for example, wouldn't usually touch a company press release - but if it's accompanied by a survey ("There Really Are More Crashes on Friday, Say Insurers") the deal is that the company get a namecheck and the media org gets some free news that a lazy hack can just paste into a story.

This one, by the Mental Health Foundation, got wide coverage including the BBC and the Sun.

According to a new public attitudes survey out today, 1 in 7 adults are reluctant to have children (15%) and 1 in 4 less inclined to plan for the future (27%) because of world troubles.

In a YouGov survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, 70% of people say they are most worried about terrorism and 58% by immigration. In contrast, environmental issues are less of a concern – only a third are worried about climate change (38%) and a quarter by the threat of a natural disaster (23%).

Two teensy pointettes

a) the figure for people worried about immigration is remarkably high, given that every official medium tells us that there's nothing at all to worry our bigoted little heads about.

b) if fear of terror or worries about immigration lessen the natives desire to breed, then we've potentially got a feedback loop in operation. On immigration, the less the natives breed, the more they notice the ratio of natives to non-natives falling, which lessens desire and so on. On terror - if an incomer group has a high birth rate, or at least one which is NOT lowered by fear of terrorism, then terrorism could almost be said to be a rational demographic strategy, if it lowered native fertility.

That of course would be a simplistic, biologically determinist view. But there's more to people than that, thank God. We don't actually act like ants or bees. Not all the time, anyway.

And in any event, the actual survey stats and methodology don't seem to have been released, so my theoretical house rests on shaky foundations. Perhaps the people who are reluctant to have kids ARE the incomers. I don't think it's likely, but it's possible.