July 1, 2008
In the 1990s, European demographers began noticing a downward trend in population across the Continent and a sharply falling birthrate. 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, birthrates 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 of the world's population.
- Today it is 7.2 percent, and if current trends continue, by 2050 only 5 percent 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 economist foresee that 30 million Europeans of working age will "disappear" by 2050.
- Europeans are used to early retirement -- in fact, only 60 percent of men in France between the ages of 50 and 64 are still working.
- In 2025, 42 percent of the people living in India will be 24 or younger, while only 22 percent 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, birthrates have plummeted -- from 6.0 globally in 1972 to 2.9 today.
- According to the United Nations, the birthrate 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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