NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Birth Dearth May Lead To Population Decline

December 22, 2000

Last year, more people died in Italy than were born; in fact, babies are scarce throughout Europe and the continent is on the verge of a population decline.

Birth rates have been dropping throughout Europe since the late 1960s. In some countries, such as Spain, Italy and Greece, the rates are now precipitously low.

  • For example, in Italy, where the average woman produces just 1.2 children (the replenishment rate is slightly more than two), the population is predicted to drop from 57 million to 41 million by 2050.
  • Germany's birth rate, at 1.3, is also low -- in fact, one-third of all couples of childbearing age in western Germany are childless.
  • The United Nations Population Division issued a report this year estimating that Europe would need 100 million immigrants in the next 50 years just to maintain its current population of 729 million.

The exception to the European birth dearth is in Northern Europe, where governments provide financial and social programs to support families. In Norway, which has a nearly sustainable birth rate of 1.8 (Iceland has the highest in Europe: 2), child care is heavily subsidized, maternity leave is generous and government-paid child allowances grow with the number of children.

The U.S., with a tradition of higher birth rates (the U.S. fertility rate currently is 2.1) and a constant inflow of immigrants, is the only major developed country with a sustainable population.

Source: Ellen Hale, "Graying of Europe has economies in jeopardy," USA Today, December 22, 2000.


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