Mumble-jumble statistics

In the Figaro (a French national daily paper) dated October 19, 2000, I found the following paragraph by columnist Max Clos, in an article entitled “Who is burning the synagogues ?” :

“A statistical desert : How many North Africans are there in France ? How many Muslims ? To be truthful, we must admit we have no idea. Sociologists and demographers have nothing more than estimations, and their figures vary enormously, ranging from three to six million North Africans. Some think the figure will double every 20 years, reaching 50 million in 2060. Others judge this hypothesis improbable, for various reasons...”.

First of all, North African and Muslim are not synonymous : the Turks, and a noteworthy proportion of the Africans residing in France are also Muslims. Further, Islam is easily transmitted from one generation to the next, but can the same be said of North Africanism ? There are certainly still a great many Catholics among the descendants of the Italian Catholics who migrated to France in the early 20th century, but there are certainly very few Italians. Why shouldn’t the same be true of North Africans ?

Nonetheless, let us make the stupid postulate that the descendants of North Africans established in France remain North Africans. If their number doubles every 20 years, to reach 50 million in the year 2060, they would have to be 25 million in 2040, 12 and a half million in 2020 and over 6 million today. This figure exceeds the probable estimation for Muslims in present-day France (see Pénombre, Chiffres en folie n° 15, France-Line Mary, “La religion du nombre” and Alfred Dittgen’s comments). As for the doubling of the population, which would suppose an annual growth rate of 3.5 %, one hardly sees how it could occur, short of a flood of arrivals from North Africa. It would require a fertility rate of 7 to 8 children per woman, a rate that did exist in North Africa some thirty years ago, but has since been divided by 3 there, and by more than that among the people originating from that region but residing in France.

It is normal, when attempting to measure an elusive reality, to give a range, with two reasonable figures, but it is stupid or criminal to give a range with one reasonable and one absurd figure.

Alfred Dittgen
January 2001

Penumbra, 2001 June