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September 8, 2012 / JayMan

Further Testing the Pioneer Hypothesis: Canada and Russia

The Pioneer Hypothesis posits that, particularly for Europeans and East Asians, colonization of new territory selects for earlier and more rapid breeding. As well, it should select for behavioral traits that promote faster breeding. In the United States at least, this has meant greater religiosity and political conservatism, giving us well known maps like these:

But, how well does the Pioneer Hypothesis hold if we look at more data? I wanted to expand my horizons beyond the United States and look at the other countries that have a recent history of colonial expansion over large territory, Canada and Russia.

Canada, much like its neighbor to the south, was originally colonized by Europeans in the east who gradually expanded westward. Unlike the U.S., however, much of Canada’s vast territory is essentially uninhabitable, confining the bulk of its people to a narrow band just north of the U.S. border:

However, here too we see a political divide like the one in the States, with the western reaches of the country being consistently to the political Right of the eastern parts (the colors on Canadian political maps being reversed from how they are in America, with red representing liberals and blue representing conservatives):

(I’d imagine that this map in fact underestimates the degree of political differences between the various Canadian regions, since these parliamentary elections are essentially aggregate local results, and don’t have something like the U.S. Presidential election to control for local relative liberal/conservatism vs their degree on the national level.)  In both the U.S. and Canada, there is a distinct negative relationship between population density (in Canada, at least, when considering only areas with non-negligible population density, all of the sparsely populated areas being predominantly populated by Indigenous groups) and political conservatism. Some of this, according to my hypothesis, is due to evolution, with conservatives, thanks to their higher fecundity, being selected for in frontier areas. However, another factor behind this divide is self-sorting. Liberal-minded people are more likely to move to larger urban areas to pursue educations or to find cultures that fit their political views. As well, as Steve Sailer originally noted, they are more likely to remain in these places, especially if they intend to have no children. However, because—at least in the States—population density…


…isn’t quite a perfect predictor of political alignment (as evidenced by the sparsely populated but liberal upper Northeast and upper Midwest and the densely packed but conservative Texas), this indicates that there is more to the story. Some of this stems from ethnic divisions, most notably between the various types of Britons that populated the various parts of the country, ala Albion’s Seed. But better fitting is colonial distance from the original settlements (the immediate West Coast was populated by transplants who came directly from the East; this and urban-rural self-sorting effects likely explains the Blueness of the coastal area).

But what about fertility? As in the U.S., fertility rates in Canada—at least of late—are higher in the west:

Births and total fertility rate, by province and territory
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
total fertility rate
Canada 1.49 1.51 1.50 1.52 1.53 1.54 1.59 1.66 1.68 1.67
Newfoundland and Labrador 1.25 1.24 1.31 1.32 1.30 1.34 1.38 1.46 1.58 1.59
Prince Edward Island 1.52 1.47 1.47 1.58 1.53 1.48 1.56 1.63 1.73 1.69
Nova Scotia 1.37 1.36 1.37 1.38 1.40 1.40 1.40 1.48 1.54 1.50
New Brunswick 1.39 1.38 1.39 1.41 1.40 1.41 1.46 1.52 1.59 1.59
Quebec 1.43 1.47 1.46 1.48 1.48 1.52 1.62 1.69 1.74 1.74
Ontario 1.48 1.51 1.47 1.49 1.50 1.51 1.52 1.57 1.58 1.56
Manitoba 1.80 1.80 1.82 1.86 1.98 1.82 1.87 1.96 1.96 1.98
Saskatchewan 1.76 1.80 1.82 1.86 1.86 1.87 1.92 2.03 2.05 2.06
Alberta 1.64 1.65 1.69 1.74 1.74 1.75 1.82 1.90 1.92 1.89
British Columbia 1.39 1.38 1.38 1.40 1.39 1.39 1.41 1.52 1.51 1.50
Yukon 1.60 1.56 1.56 1.52 1.67 1.48 1.69 1.58 1.64 1.66
Northwest Territories 2.00 1.82 1.89 2.05 2.03 2.11 2.07 2.11 2.08 2.06
Nunavut 3.16 3.03 3.04 3.10 2.96 2.74 2.84 2.97 2.98 3.24

As well, here are the growth curves of the populations of selected Canadian provinces:

Population growth has generally been sluggish in the eastern Canadian provinces, with immigration having generally been complete after receiving the earlier influx of British and Irish immigrants in the 19th Century. Fertility rates are abysmal. By contrast, growth in the Prairie Provinces has been more vigorous, being swelled by both immigration and natural increase. Interesting however is the contrast between Quebec and Ontario. Both have large and growing populations that continue to swell, but Ontario’s is due in great part to ongoing immigration. Quebec, on the other hand, has historically received little by way of immigration; most of its population growth was due to natural increase from a founding population of about 2,600 French settlers. Indeed Quebec and French Canadian colonists serve as much of the supporting evidence for the link between colonization and fertility. Long having vast territory to colonize, fertility rates among the Quebecois have been high. So high in fact, that—like with the motherland of France—Quebec’s fertility declined fairly early thanks to population pressure, which I’ll discuss further shortly.

Included for comparison are the U.S. states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont:

These states have much in common with eastern Canada, and all were settled primarily long ago with little influx of new immigrants until relatively recently—as such, the people are mostly of the original colonial stock, less the very new arrivals. Hence, as I’ve discussed before, these states are primarily populated by what have become slow-breeders. Indeed, despite the comparatively Right-leaning nature of New Hampshire politically, it is the least religious state in the Union. The vast majority of the population growth in these states—particularly as of late—stem from new arrivals from other states (the “people from away”; I’m included in that group)—suburban expansion from Boston in the case of NH. Indeed, in Vermont (which is blazing blue on the political map), nearly half of the current residents were born outside the state. It has the lowest fertility rate of any state. In essence, Vermont can be regarded as a place where slow-breeders go to die.

The idea behind the Pioneer Hypothesis is that colonization—provided that habitable land is abundant—selects for earlier breeders. Environmental parameters can have an impact. The biggest is cost of living—defined here as the ease of obtaining enough resources to raise a family. Should this become more difficult, either by purely economic reasons (wages vs. expenses) or by climatic/geographic forces (say farming becoming more difficult in the pre-modern times), most people will cut back on breeding, in one manner or another. Technological changes that make living easier or opens up previously poorly habitable land (e.g. highways to suburbia) will increases breeding. Both of these factors gave us the Baby Boom.

As well, techno-social changes can alter breeding habits by altering the environment. Birth control, the sexual revolution, and the modern post-industrial economy have cut fertility rates across the board. The traits favored in earlier eras—even during the earlier colonial expansions like the type seen in Quebec—can prove to be evolutionarily maladaptive today. Indeed, the transition to modern life is likely in partly responsible for the drop in fertility seen there (see also here). However, overall, colonially selected faster-breeders will be more resistant to such changes and will continue to breed, as we see with Quebec’s relatively high fertility rate today. (That is—in addition to evolution—demographic changes will cause the non-reproducers to die off, leaving a higher proportion of faster-breeders behind—hence, the rising fertility rates seen across the Western World, as I’ve explained previously).

On the topic of fertility rebounding, I turn to Russia:

This is a map of the 2002 total fertility rates in Russia, of ethnic Russians only, as reported from the 2002 Russian census, retrieved here. As we can see, as predicted by my hypothesis, fertility rates do indeed generally rise as you go east, following the path of colonization of the expansion of the Russian Empire.

However, as seen here:

fertility rates in Russia hit a nadir in 1999 (generally following the health of the Russian economy, as with my note about cost of living), so the 2002 data likely underestimates the degree of regional differences. Fertility rates from the 2010 Russian census have yet to be released, but I did manage to find this map based on more recent data:

Unfortunately, this is not separated by ethnicity, but an idea can be drawn by looking at this map of the distribution of ethnic Russians in Russia. Fertility remains higher in the east, particularly in eastern sections along the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Overall, these data support the Pioneer Hypothesis. Ideally, for further confirmation, I would like to see historical fertility rates for Europe and Anglo-America. Even better would be to have historical comparison of fertility rates against relative cost of living, with average wages considered (at least for the post agrarian epoch). This hypothesis would predict a fairly sharp correlation between fertility and wages less costs.

As for the religious/political aspect of the hypothesis, I do not have data of religiosity in Russia to see if that pattern exists there (note that I excluded Australia from all of this analysis since its regions of habitable land are very narrow). In North America, the religious political aspect may be related to the particulars of British ideological vagaries, particularly, the divide between the outbred southwest and the more inbred (and traditional) northern parts:


Beliefs and views associated with political conservatism in America are definitely British in origin, and are probably more inline with the more inbred segments of the country (particularly the reduced emphasis on social welfare and a lower willingness to warm up to other groups, particularly those of other races). This is certainly evident with the divide between the American North and South. Perhaps this distinction was the seed that allowed colonial selection pressures to separate fast-breeders and slow-breeders along political lines (each group perhaps then absorbing other immigrant nationalities through intermarriage as they went their separate ways).

The other important note about the Pioneer Hypothesis is that it is less applicable to groups that do not have a long history of living in cold-weather civilization. Foresight (for dealing with winter conditions) and emotional restraint were less important in warm areas, in accordance to classic r/K-selection theory. That said, it is not completely inapplicable, as we see a negative relationship between fertility and population density in India:

Fertility rates are falling in certain parts of the developing world, particularly Latin America and parts of South and Southeast Asia. Edit (9/9/12, see comments): Only sub-Saharan Africa and much some parts of the Muslim world have yet to catch up (also here).

As always, I will continue to do additional research.



Leave a Comment
  1. Razib Khan (@razibkhan) / Sep 9 2012 1:21 AM

    Only sub-Saharan Africa and much of the Muslim world have yet to catch up.

    there’s no reason to put the muslim world with ssa africa anymore (unless muslim world == afghanistan). see:

  2. jmro98 / Sep 9 2012 8:23 AM

    I really enjoyed your post, it is most interesting, I am a Montrealer, french canadian, fertility rate here were much higher when the practice of catholicism was higher, and in earliers decades it was seen as a meaning of opposing the ‘british invaders…:), and of course the french population was a more rural one, this started to change in the 30s, with a lot of industrialisation and people moving to large urban centers, since the mid sixties we became a more laic society, more ‘modern’, lot of social changes did occur, more educated, religious practice went down, a lot, and families went smaller, but lately there is a new baby boom, but of course much smaller, young families tend to have 2 childs, and usually after both parents have established a more stable economic environment. Thanks again for sharing your post, I’m looking forward for more of your studies!

  3. Martin Hewson / Sep 11 2012 12:14 AM

    A couple of complications in Western Canada.
    1-The higher TFR of Natives. This affects the figures for Nunavut, NW Territories, and Saskatchewan, because natives are a significant proportion of the total pop there. We’d need to have the non-Native TFRs to test your hypothesis more accurately.
    2-Political orientations can shift. In 1944, still close to the pioneer era, Saskatchewan elected the first social-democratic government (the CCF) in Canada (or N. America for that matter) and later was the first to bring in public heathcare. So, it was left-wing in a way. But that arose partly from the pioneer spirit in a land of long harsh winters of communal cooperation for survival. The CCF had a rural base. As Saskatchewan has become less of a pioneer land, it has split politically: rural is conservative, urban is left. That urban-vs-rural split is probably a better correlate of left-vs-right politics than Eastern-vs-Western Canada.
    I don’t think this refutes the pioneer hypothesis, it just complicates it.

    • JayMan / Sep 11 2012 8:24 AM

      1-The higher TFR of Natives. This affects the figures for Nunavut, NW Territories, and Saskatchewan, because natives are a significant proportion of the total pop there.

      Yes, it seemed fairly obvious that in far northern sections—in the NW Territories and certainly Nunavut—that Indigenous groups were contributing significantly the reported fertility rates. This may also be true in Saskatchewan, where they make up 10% of the population. But it’s probably not the case in Alberta, where they make up only about 5% of the population. The reported fertility rate there is due to White fertility, just as in corresponding parts of the States to the south.

      2-Political orientations can shift. In 1944, still close to the pioneer era, Saskatchewan elected the first social-democratic government (the CCF) in Canada (or N. America for that matter) and later was the first to bring in public heathcare. So, it was left-wing in a way. But that arose partly from the pioneer spirit in a land of long harsh winters of communal cooperation for survival.

      Yes, but political beliefs are contextual. There has been a realignment of political parties in the middle of the previous century here in the States as well. What is a liberal position to one generation may become a conservative one in another, even if the prevailing attitudes of a people don’t change much.

      As Saskatchewan has become less of a pioneer land, it has split politically: rural is conservative, urban is left. That urban-vs-rural split is probably a better correlate of left-vs-right politics than Eastern-vs-Western Canada.

      The urban/rural divide is partly due to self-sorting; that is, more liberal-minded people moving to cities. But even still, decreased urbanization would in general predict increased conservatism, as these places were typically colonized outward from population centers. This would be likely true in the east as well. Nonetheless, the patterns seen both in the States and Canada, where the eastern parts (and northern parts in the U.S.) being more liberal even in rural areas, and vice versa.

  4. ironrailsironweights / Sep 26 2012 7:50 PM

    jmro98 would be able to give a more definitive answer, but IINM there is quite a bit of immigration to Quebec, much of it from Haiti.

  5. Steve Sailer / Oct 14 2012 8:50 AM

    Ever reading anything by Peter Turchin? I think “War and Peace and War” is his more readable book (I don’t recall much of his more technical book), and it has some good chapters on Russia as a frontier society, both on the Siberian frontier and the southern steppe frontier — stuff I should have known, but was all new to me.

    • JayMan / Oct 14 2012 9:13 AM

      No, but it sounds like something I should check out! Thanks!


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