The European Union’s statistical office, Eurostat, and the Directorate General Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of the European Commission (honestly I have no idea how the different organisations, commissions etc work in Europe, but according to Cyprus they’re worth every Euro…) have just released a report on the current demographic trends of the 27 member nations of the EU.  This report, entitled the “Special Supplement on Demographic Trends” provides an overview of the EU’s current (2012) demographic makeup and compares it to the situation in 1992.  

In a nutshell, in the twenty years since 1992, the EU has become larger, much older, less likely to be married and more likely to have children out of wedlock. The population in 2012 is roughly 503.7 million people, 6% more than 1992. The overall share of those aged 65 years old and above has climbed from 14% to 18% of the population. However, the overall dependency ratio (the number of dependants per 100 workers) has only increased slightly over that time, from 49.5 to 50.2. This means that there are two workers for each dependant in the EU. How can this be when the proportion of elderly has increased so significantly? The answer is that there are fewer young dependants (aged under 15). While the old age dependency ratio has increased from 22.9 to 26.8; the young age dependency ratio has decreased from 28.5 to 23.4. That means that twenty years on, the EU is supporting the same proportion of dependants, but these dependants are more elderly. There are fewer young people coming through to replace the current generation of workers and taxpayers. This is true across all 27 nations except Denmark, where the proportion of those under 15 increased along with those dependants over 65. Those countries with the lowest proportion of the population under 15 were Bulgaria and Germany, with 20 for every 100 working-age citizens.  At the other end of the scale, those with the lowest old-age dependant ratios were Slovakia, Ireland and Cyprus at 18; while the highest were Germany (31) and Italy (32).

In terms of family structure, the traditional family in the EU27 is becoming less common. Marriage rates are lower, divorce rates are higher and, not surprisingly, the proportion of births outside of marriage has increased.  The crude marriage rate (marriages per 1000 people) fell by nearly a third across the EU between 1990 and 2011 from 6.3 to 4.4. The trend is replicated in all of the member states except Finland and Sweden which both saw their crude marriage rates rise:

“In 2011, the highest marriage rates were recorded in Cyprus (7.3 marriages per 1000 persons), Lithuania (6.3) and Malta (6.1), and the lowest in Bulgaria (2.9), Slovenia (3.2), Luxembourg (3.3), Spain, Italy and Portugal (all 3.4).”

The divorce rate across the EU27 rose during the same period from 1.6 to 1.9 divorces per 1000 people.  However, quite a few countries bucked this overall trend. The Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Finland and the United Kingdom all saw their divorce rates fall while Austria, Lithuania and Latvia saw theirs remain static. 

Perhaps the most interesting (and disturbing) trend over the last twenty years or so has been the explosion in the number of children born outside of wedlock. In 1990, the % of total live births outside of marriage was 17.4% across the EU27. In 2011 this had more than doubled to 39.5%. All 27 of the member states increased their proportion of births outside of wedlock, but leading the way was Estonia (60%!), Slovenia (57%), Bulgaria (56%) and France (56%).  At the other end of the scale in Greece only 7% of births were outside of marriage. 

So there you have it, a snapshot of the EU’s demography. Even if the Euro is sorted, the wider EU has quite large, deep-seated demographic and social issues. It is getting older, it is not replacing its workforce and the traditional family is slowly and not so slowly receding. Not really any surprises there.

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...