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June 14, 2007

Europes demographic future -two Europes

The Economist takes a close look at changing demographic trends and a rebound in birth rates in France and England and some other countries

France is not unique. Official forecasts predict Britain's population will rise 15% by 2050, an extra 9m people. For Sweden, the forecasts say the population will grow by about a fifth. Some of this is the result of immigration and rising longevity but, according to David Coleman, a demographer at Oxford University, the recovery is also the result of older women having more children “almost sufficient to compensate for the sharply reduced birth rates of younger women”. This is exactly what was hoped for, but does not seem to be happening yet, in the Mediterranean and eastern Europe.

If you take account of late childbearing, you find that 16 European countries, with a total population of 234m, now have fertility rates of 1.8 or more. Half are above 2.0. Despite near-panic about “inevitably” declining population, then, some European countries are growing quite strongly. They are rare examples of bucking the trend that, as countries get richer, their birth rates fall.

None of this means that Europe has broken the chains of its demography. The EU's overall population will fall by 7m by 2050. The so-called support ratio (roughly, the proportion of workers to pensioners) is declining everywhere. And as Mr Coleman points out, Europe's share of global population will fall from 21% now to 7% by 2050. Even its successes are only relative. A fertility rate of 1.8 is still below replacement.


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