Monday, June 30, 2008

Suddenly, Half of Europe Disappears--Poof, Gone!

In 50 years, half the population of many European countries will simply disappear--puff! gone. Why have Europeans stopped having babies, and why does everyone in Europe seem to be avoiding the issue?
For the first time on record, birthrates in southern and Eastern Europe had dropped below 1.3. For the demographers, this number had a special mathematical portent. At that rate, a country’s population would be cut in half in 45 years, creating a falling-off-a-cliff effect from which it would be nearly impossible to recover.

...In Germany, where the births-to-deaths ratio now results in an annual population loss of roughly 100,000, Ursula von der Leyen, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s family minister (and a mother of seven), declared two years ago that if her country didn’t reverse its plummeting birthrate, “We will have to turn out the light.”

...“But you can’t go on forever with a total fertility rate of 1.2. If you compare the size of the 0-to-4 and 29-to-34 age groups in Spain and Italy right now, you see the younger is almost half the size of the older. You can’t keep going with a completely upside-down age distribution, with the pyramid standing on its point. You can’t have a country where everybody lives in a nursing home.” Read the rest at the __NYT
A Europe without children? Europe dispensed with its military infrastructure decades ago, in favour of allowing the US to carry the weight. Other once-vital parts of its infrastructure are going by the wayside one by one.

Welfare states need workers to pay into the system, to provide for all the trusting retirees who assume the system will always be there for them. The challenge for Europe--in the face of both low fertility rates and rising emigration of its brightest and most talented--is to keep the top-heavy bureaucracies running, the infrastructure maintained, and the productive sector producing. Unfortunately, it is the productive sector that seems to be shrinking the most quickly.

Recommended reading:

The Global Baby Bust
Europe's Baby Bust
A Return to Pastoral Europe?
Birth of an Empire
Fiscal Policy and Fertility in the US

Previously published at Al Fin

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