Like most children, I grew up listening to my mother’s choice of music. One of my earliest favourites was “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston. For some reason the lyrics struck a chord with me:
“I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside…
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be”
The lyrics still ring true for me. If the children really are our future then the Eurozone has a seriously questionable one. There is not nearly as much children’s laughter around.
Figures released by the European Union’s statistics agency late last week show that the number of children aged less than 15 in the 28-member bloc decreased by 10 million over the last twenty years, and it is a trend that is set to continue.
People aged less than 15 years accounted for 18.6% of the population in 1994, but just 15.6% in 2014. The Eurozone’s most dominant force, Germany, had the lowest share of young people. There, young people now make up just 13.1% of the population, down from 16.4% in 1994. It was followed by Bulgaria (13.7%) and Italy (13.%). Ireland (22%) recorded by far the largest proportion of children, followed by France (18.6%) and the United Kingdom (17.6%).
The falling number of children and young people will result in various challenges, including labour market shortages. The share of the elderly in the total population continues to increase, and each future worker will have to support a larger number of retirees. The number of elderly people in the EU exceeded the number of children for the first time ever in 2004.
Eurostat says the challenges will include:
– how to propagate sustainable economic growth during a period when the number and proportion of working-age people will decline; a lower number of working-age people could lead to a reduction in revenue-raising powers, for example, from income tax and social security contributions; and
– how to safeguard social welfare models, such as pensions and healthcare, if there are a growing number of (very) old people who are making increasing demands on these systems.
One solution is for the Eurozone to encourage higher levels of immigration to avoid decades of very low economic growth that will leave it with high levels of debt. However, migrants will obviously have to come from somewhere. Maybe the parts of Africa and Asia which still sustain relatively high birth rates?
As The Wall Street Journal comments, leaders will have to consider urging Europeans to start making more Europeans if they want to sustain their countries and ensure that “children’s laughter” continues to create joy.