European demographics

Marie José Garot. Professor. IE Law School

2 September 2013

European demographics is one of the region’s longstanding problems, and the solution to this dilemma lies in the use of family policies.

In the middle of the current debate about the Euro crisis and the economic governance of the EU there is an issue that is being pushed aside, and it is one that all European citizens should be concerned about. At the end of the day it will have an impact on what is going to be done, or at least attempted, with European public finances. I am talking about the ageing European population. As Rafael Puyol explained in a seminar held on June 20 at IE’s Center for European Studies, Europe’s population is ageing in part because of increasing longevity, and partly because of the low birth rate.

This is creating a snowball effect, because when fewer babies are born, there end up being fewer women and therefore even fewer babies. These two factors also explain why Europe’s population has been growing more slowly in recent decades, and why, having comprised some 20 % of the world’s population in the past, it now comprises 10%. This piece of data can be coupled with another that I already mentioned in a previous post – the fact that in 2050 there will no European countries in the G8. But, if we look at a ranking of the world’s most populous countries, the EU, with an aggregate population of 500 million, would occupy the third position behind China and India, and would be in front of the US, Indonesia and Brazil – if it were just one state.

One partial solution (be it “natural” or “contrived”), came in the form of immigration to the EU which has managed to offset the ageing process in the region. Immigration now accounts for 63 % of growth across Europe. Nevertheless, from a purely Spanish perspective, and in particular if we look at the provisional data for 2012 on the natural movement of the population and basic demographic indicators for the Spanish population (published by Spain’s National Institute for Statistics on June 18), there has been a drop in birth rates among female immigrants, who traditionally had far higher birth rates than Spanish women.  This took the average number of children per woman down to 1.36, which doesn’t even come close to the 2.1 needed to maintain the level of population, and is lower than that of other EU states such as Hungary, Romania or Poland. This leads to the conclusion that immigration is not the only solution that the EU needs to promote  (and much could be written on European migratory policy, particularly about its unfortunate loopholes). It also means that the time has come to take family policies seriously if we want to see the continuation of Europe’s social model, on which European consensus rests. The future of the European Union depends on this. Don’t forget – it is not yet too late to do something!


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