The story of the fallout from the EU’s economic woes continues. A few days ago, the Washington Post ran a story about the decline of Portugal, one of those countries hit hardest by the economic meltdown in Europe over the last few years. This decline is certainly economic, but one of the flow-on effects has been the demographic decline in that country. This decline can be seen in the decline in the number of births in the country:

“The recent decline in births across Portugal — to 89,841 babies in 2012, a 14 percent drop since 2008 — has been so acute that the national government is moving to close a slew of maternity wards nationwide. In an increasingly childless country, 239 schools are shutting down this year and sales of products such as baby diapers and children’s shampoos are plummeting.”

Not only are schools being closed, but maternity hospitals are retracting as the demand for their services shrinks:

“Serving a country that was battling a low birthrate even before the region’s economy fell off a cliff, Alfredo da Costa Maternity Hospital delivered about 7,000 babies a year until recently. But with economic uncertainty causing young couples to rethink family plans or leave these shores for other countries, the number of births crashed last year to 4,500, leading the hospital to mothball an entire wing and slash 20 percent of the staff.”

At the same time, the proportion of the Portuguese population entering their golden years is increasing:

“By 2030, the retired population in Portugal, for instance, is expected to surge by 27.4 percent, with those older than 65 predicted to make up nearly one in every four residents. With fewer future workers and taxpayers being born, however, the Portuguese are confronting what could be an accelerated fiscal reckoning to provide for their aging population. Portugal is ahead of other nations in Europe in planning for those explosive costs. But some government officials here concede that far deeper cuts — as well as a push toward a united social security system within the European Union — may be needed to cope with what is turning out to be a worse-than-expected demographic crisis.”

What this all means is that the future population of Portugal is looking older and less numerous:

“But experts predict that the population loss ahead could be beyond even the worst-case predictions of nearly 1 million inhabitants fewer — or almost 10 percent of the current population of 10.56 million — by 2030. That has many here bemoaning the “disappearance” of a nation and asking: Who will be left to support a dying country of old men and women?

‘This is one of the biggest problems we face as a nation,’ said José Tavares, a political economics professor at the Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon. ‘If we don’t find a way to fix this, we will be facing a disaster.’”

As the article states, Portugal is not alone in this declining birthrate. Ireland, Cyprus, Spain and Greece are also facing similar problems. These nations are all united by their dire economic situations. But even better performing nations in the EU are facing demographic decline: Italy and Germany. 

At a human level, the biggest tragedy is not the lack of taxpayers to pay for a burgeoning pension/healthcare bill, although this is terrible enough. Instead it is a community that has lost the noise of children: playing, screaming and laughing. It is a community that has lost the sight of children playing. It is a community in short that has lost any hope for the future. After all, what are our children but a physical reminder that our communities and our world will continue beyond our own generation?

“Along the narrow, hilly streets of the inland municipality of Vila Velha de Rodao, Mafalda Diogo Sabino’s fame is already legendary. The local newspaper heralded her arrival in September with a half-page spread and a goody basket of oils and lotions delivered to her door. Every day since, seemingly everyone has wanted a piece of the fickle little celebrity, with her adoring fans shadowing her in the hopes of pinching an unsuspecting cheek or catching a glimpse of her now-fabled smile.

In this graying corner of the Iberian Peninsula, the 9-month-old’s claim to fame is merely being born…The town is providing preschool for next to nothing, using a corner of a nursing home for the children.

Seniors living at the home, such as Maria Jesus Rodrigues, 87, relish the contact with children.

‘We used to have children everywhere when I was young. We never thought about the economic side; we just had them,’ Rodrigues said. ‘But there are not so many now. Young people today are thinking more about how they will pay for children with so few jobs. I guess I understand.’ A few minutes later, Rodrigues, who moved to the home from her nearby village, where the youngest resident is 57, burst into a local folk song.

‘I have to sing now,’ she crooned, ‘because when I die, there will be no one left to sing for me.’”

“We never thought about the economic side” so why are we so concerned about this now? Is it, as Shannon said in her last post that we are no longer satisfied by having less? Are we so desperate to fill our lives with economic and material things (the vast majority of which previous generations had never dreamed of) that we miss the chance of filling our lives with the most amazing thing of all: children? I feel deeply sorry for those Portugeuse who will never be parents and those children who will never have the joy of a sibling. But this is something that is becoming increasingly common in Portugal and the rest of the West.

Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...