Childless Europe

In the 1990s, European demographers began noticing a downward trend in population across the Continent and a sharply falling birth rate. Then in 2002, a study by Italian, German, and Spanish social scientists released data, which gave policy makers across the European Union something to ponder:

  • For the first time, birth-rates in southern and Eastern Europe dropped to 1.3, far below the "replacement rate" of 2.1 – the average number of births per woman that will maintain a country's current population level.

  • At the rate of 1.3, a country's population would be cut in half in 45 years.

    Putting those numbers in a broader world-historical context is stirring a debate about Europe's future, says the New York Times:

  • In 1963, Europe represented 12.5 per cent of the world's population.

  • Today it is 7.2 per cent, and if current trends continue, by 2050 only 5 per cent of the world will be European.

    The main threat to Europe from the declining population trends is economic says the Times. According to a paper from the Rand Europe research group:

  • Demographers and economists foresee that 30 million Europeans of working age will "disappear" by 2050.

  • Europeans are used to early retirement – in fact, only 60 per cent of men in France between the ages of 50 and 64 are still working.

  • In 2025, 42 per cent of the people living in India will be 24 or younger, while only 22 per cent of Spain's population will be in that age group, resulting in a "war for talent" and an ever-smaller work force.

    Declining population trends are not unique to Europe:

  • Even in developing countries, birth-rates have plummeted – from 6 per cent globally in 1972 to 2.9 per cent today.

  • According to the United Nations, the birth-rate in 25 developing countries now stands at or below the replacement level.

    Source: Russell Shorto, Childless Europe New York Times Magazine, June 30, 2008.

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    For more on Social Issues:

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 8 July 2008
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