Europe is getting old.

This is happening for two reasons

  • We are living longer
  • We are having fewer children.

Life expectancy in the European Union countries was 67 years in 1950, now it is 80 years. In fact, life expectancy is increasing by 3 months every year.

In 1960, the birth rate was an average of 3 children for every woman. Now it is halved to 1.5 children for every woman.

There are small variations between countries, with a higher than average birth rate of nearly 2 in France, Sweden, Ireland and the UK (in declining order). The lowest birth rate in the EU is in Portugal, followed in order by Poland, Spain, Greece and Italy.

Interestingly, the proportion of woman with work outside the home does not lead to lower birth rates, according to these international comparisons.

Europe’s declining, and ageing, population has had, and is likely continue to have dramatic effects.

Whereas Europeans made up 13.5% of the world’s population in 1960, by 2060 Europeans will only be 5% of the world population. Political perceptions have yet to catch up with this reality.

In 2016, the fastest declines in population (in order) were in Lithuania, Latvia, Croatia, Belgium and Romania.  But there was some growth in Luxembourg, Sweden, Malta and Ireland. These changes are due to immigration within the EU.

The number of Europeans of working age will fall by 65 million people by 2060.

Unless people retire later in future, this will mean fewer people earning and in a position to pay taxes, and more people retired and receiving pensions and health services, paid for by someone else.

With fewer young people, EU countries will have fewer local people available to work in the health services, in social care, and providing minimal military and police security for European population.

To recruit these young people into services, much higher salaries will have to be paid and/or immigrants will have to be recruited to these jobs.

Human Services, already poor in many countries, are likely to disimprove, and become costlier, unless people providing services are replaced by robots.

Older people will have different priorities to younger people.

They will tend not to be as entrepreneurial as younger people, and to be more risk averse. They will tend to spend more of their income and save less of it.

So we could have fewer innovations, and less capital from saving available to fund them. This combination is a formula for lower economic growth, at a time when demand for the fruits of growth to go on healthcare and pensions will be increasing.

These trends are not, of course, entirely inevitable.

  • European birth rates could increase. In the last few years, they have stopped falling. Women could decide to have children at a younger age. French policy on this issue is worth looking at.
  • Improvement in educational methods and efficiency could mean that young people are ready to working productively, at an earlier age, rather than at progressively later ages, as is the present trend. One must ask if vested interests are behind the ever higher qualifications being required for certain jobs.
  • Retirement ages could be increased. Some countries have already done this. It is not popular because it is seen as reducing pension entitlements
  • Cultural change could lead to greater activity rates, and innovativeness in business, among older people. This could boost economic growth and reduce dependency.
  • Rather than resist immigration, Europeans could start to encourage it, on the basis that we need immigrants, of working age, to staff our hospitals, security services, and pay taxes. Germany is thinking along these lines. But the reverse is happening at the moment.

For example, the EU is entering into deals with countries like Morocco, Libya and Turkey to keep refugees out of Europe, at least until we have figured out a way to integrate the refugees we already have. These deals are in response to voters who have fears about immigration.

Public opinion is divided.  50% of people in Hungary and Poland regard refugees as a burden. But majorities in Germany, Sweden and Spain believe the refugees will eventually make their country stronger.

If immigrants are to help EU countries to maintain a healthy and balanced population structure, we are going to have to give a lot more thought to how best to help immigrants become fully integrated into society, with good links to the native born population.

Workplaces alone cannot bear the whole burden of integrating their workforces, as we see from experience in Northern Ireland of relatively little political and cultural integration between ”Nationalists” and “Unionists”. Work places have perhaps become more specialised and solitary, and opportunities for integration between workmates may be less as a result.

Local communities, and religious, sporting and cultural organisations must play a part too. Where these organisations receive support from public funds, they should perhaps get a little extra if they have a good record of integrating immigrants.

Schools are very important, especially where the language spoken in the home is different from that of the school.

Pre school outreach to mothers of future pupils has been effective in improving literacy, and subsequent school performance, so it might also help with learning English too.

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