Last year, the European Commission issued its 2012 Ageing Report (PDF), warning that Europe needs to start preparing now for a demographic shift towards an older population supported by a shrinking share of people of working age. The report predicts that nearly one third of Europeans will be 65 or over by 2060, and that the share of those aged 15-64 is projected to decline from 67% to 56%. In other words, this would mean a shift from 4 working-age people for every pensioner to just 2.
According to the report, the fertility rate in the EU in 2010 was just 1.59 births per woman, and this is only predicted to rise very slightly to 1.71 births per woman by 2060. Obviously, this is less than the replacement rate (which is roughly 2 births per woman), and so Europe’s population would be expected to decline over this period. Net migration into the EU, however, is projected to add up to about 60 million by 2060, which would see the EU’s population remain stable at about 500 million.
People in Europe complain all the time that we’re overpopulated, but in fact the opposite is true: we’re slowly fading away in Europe. Like the Japanese, Europe’s solution to problems is called having more babies, since Europeans seem to oppose immigration almost unanimously and say immigrants are making problems bigger. On the contrary, they’ve helped made them less acute if anything. Too many resources are going towards paying pension plans and other social programs, but the system is already being put under pressure.
Historically, two of the countries with the highest immigration rates in the EU have been Germany and the UK. However, only last month it was reported that UK net migration has fallen by a third, whilst Germany, meanwhile, has been forced to relax its immigration controls in certain sectors to “alleviate chronic shortages in areas such as engineering, train driving and plumbing.”
We spoke to William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration, to ask him to respond to Juan’s comment. Here’s what he had to say:
I think Juan’s comment is a very accurate statement of the challenge that Europe is faced with, and it’s certainly in line with the trends as we know them today. There’s no question there is a negative demographic trend in Europe, and in 20-30 years, Europe will be dependent on labour coming from outside its borders. Migration alone may not be sufficient to meet this shortage, but it will be the main source for filling the gap left by the negative replacement rate.
Governments and political leaders need to face up to the trends of the time and encourage public education and programmes to prepare the population for large-scale immigration to their countries, which is probably inevitable given demographic trends. Immigration is necessary if the European economy is to thrive, but it’s also desirable: migrants bring a catalytic element to societies, encourage innovation, and they sometimes have a better work ethic than the native population.
How much can we really trust the figures, though? We had a comment sent in from Tedz, who believes that: “In the UK we have so many illegal immigrants the government have to pluck a figure out of thin air because they have not a clue!”
It’s very inexact. There are a good deal of estimations out there, but it’s very hard to get close to the final figure. In our World Migration Report, which is the International Organization for Migration’s flagship publication, two years ago we devoted it to the question of public perceptions and attitudes to migration globally, conducting Gallup polls in several industrialised countries. We found that nationals and native-born citizens tended to over-estimate by a large percentage the total number of migrants in their country. So, there is a general tendency to over-estimate, encouraged by the concern that migrants represent a threat to their personal identity.
What do YOU think? How can Europe solve the problem of an ageing population supported by a shrinking number of people of working age? Would increased levels of immigration help compensate for Europe’s low birthrate? Or would this merely lead to increased social problems and the rise of anti-immigration parties? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.