While some experts and officials harp on about the population explosion in the developing world, a problem is developing on their own back doorstep which is usually downplayed. This week for the first time the European Union has conceded just how close the region is to demographic decline. A report from Eurostat, the official number cruncher warns that in a mere seven years, deaths will begin to exceed births in Europe as a result of low fertility.
Germany would lose its status as Europe’s most populous nation but several East European nations would experience a sharp drop in numbers, with populations shrinking by a quarter or more. Ireland would be one of the few countries with significant population growth. Adding immigration at the current level would stave off population decline until around 2035. The EU’s population would grow from the present level of 495 million to 521, but then fall back to 506 million in 2060. By then, the United States population would have grown from the current 301 million to 468 million.
Of course, these are only projections, but the implications are a stark warning. At present, there are four persons of working age for every person aged 65 or over, says Eurostat. In 2060, the ratio is expected to be two to one. The burden of pensions and healthcare for an expanding older population will be economic and political problems. Increased immigration may be an option, but at present it is unpopular with Europeans. Most low fertility countries are trying to encourage more births, but economists tend to be afraid of the impact of an increasing young population needing services right at the time when older citizens are draining the public purse. It looks as though meddling with fertility, as most governments have done, was not a good idea after all. ~ International Herald Tribune, August 26