Sunday, April 10, 2005

The amazing shrinking European Union 

The European Union faces an uncertain demographic future (hat tip: Dan Foty):
"The European Union's current 25 members will see the bloc's population start declining in 2025 with new member states in the East experiencing the fastest drop, a study released Friday by the EU's statistics branch projected.

"The EU would gain 13 million inhabitants from the 456.8 million registered in 2004 to peak at 470.1 million in 2025.

"The increase was mainly attributed to immigration since the total number of deaths was expected to exceed births as soon as 2010, Eurostat said.

"Between 2025 and 2050, the 25-nation EU will shed 20 million inhabitants to 449.8 million."
Coincidentally, this issue is more complex than putting it all on "the decadent, post-modern West", as the problem seems to be even more pronounced in the East:
"The study found that the EU's new, Eastern members were already seeing their populations decrease. In 2004, the populations of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia were already on the decline."
Ironically, the birth rates are falling across the Western Europe because the standard of living is quite high, while in the Eastern Europe because it is not high enough. Secularism, arguably, also has something to do with it, as despite the much diverging modern histories between the two halves of the continent, the levels of religious observance and commitment are equally low in the Old and the New Europe, with exception of Poland (even here, however, high church attendance and sentimental commitment to the Catholic Church are not translating into more babies).

As we all know, the greatest concern surrounds the impact of demographic trends on the economy:
"Over the coming decades, the EU is also set to lose masses of working age people, defined as between 15 and 65 years old, while the number of elderly people, defined as 65 years old and above, would rise quickly.

"Eurostat calculated that the number of working age people would fall from 67.4 percent of the total population in 2004 to 56.7 percent in 2050, representing a drop of 52 million people.

"At the same time, the percentage of elderly people would nearly double from 16.4 percent of the population in 2004 to 29.9 percent in 2050."
Even here, the situation is not clear cut: large population of itself doesn't necessarily translate into high standards of living or high levels of economic growth - it's what you do with it that counts. Productivity levels, the nature of the regulatory framework, and the levels of research and development, and technological and scientific progress, are all far more important than numbers. Over the course of history, the human race has managed in its ingenuity to ensure that less and less of us have to do the backbreaking work for more and more of us to enjoy better, healthier, longer and more rewarding lives.

The demographic challenge is just that - a challenge. Let's hope that we - including the EUrocrats - can eventually rise to it.

Astute Blogger
has more on European demographics.

Meanwhile, in Australia:
"The Howard Government's family-friendly policies such as the baby bonus, coupled with the strong economic outlook, have created the first baby boom in nine years.

"Figures obtained by The Weekend Australian reveal that more than 143,000 families nationally have claimed the $3000 baby bonus since it was launched on July 1 last year - about 85 per cent of parents who have had children in that time.

"According to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, about 255,000 babies were born in the 12 months to September, the most in nine years.

"Hospitals across the nation are also experiencing strong demand for obstetric services."


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