Forget climate change, ageing populations are the real problem
Old man Europe must find a way to keep up with the younger populations of Asia, Africa & America
Perhaps it is because we are so preoccupied with climate change that we pay so little attention to another form of change – this time demographic – which is also creeping up on us. Already, Europe's people are older than any other continent's and its fertility rate, at 1.5 children per woman, is way below replacement level. Across the continent deaths outnumber births. At the same time life expectancy is increasing, so much so that 19 out of the world's 20 oldest countries, in terms of population age, are European:
• In 1950 there were 5.5 million people aged over 65 in Britain. Now there are more than 10 million, and in twenty five years time there will be over 15 million. But the number of people of working age, who will have to support them, is likely to stay roughly the same at a little over 40 million.
• The British birth rate has been below replacement level since the mid-1970s, yet our population is not just growing but rocketing. By 2030 it is projected to increase by 10 million to over 70 million. By 2050 it is projected to reach 75 million
• This is mainly because net immigration into this country over the last decade has been running at 200,000 a year, sometimes even more. Allowing for the 200,000 people who also leave the country annually, we have recently been taking up to half-a-million migrants a year – the highest in our history.
• Without immigration, the population would rise to just 64 million by 2030, mainly as a result of people living longer, before slowly declining. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Europe the big worry is what will happen when populations fall.
• The Russian population is already dropping at the rate of 10,000 a week, thanks to a very low birth rate and reduced life expectancy after the collapse of Communism. In 2000 there were 148 million Russians, by 2050 this is projected to fall to 116 million.
• In Germany they live longer, but a birth rate of just 1.4 children per woman and comparatively low immigration means their population is also projected to fall - by 12 million between now and mid-century.
• Countries with very low birth rates and emigration, rather than immigration, will shrink even faster. By 2050 Bulgaria is projected to lose 30 per cent of its population, Ukraine and Belarus nearly 25 per cent apiece, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania roughly 20 per cent each, Croatia 15 per cent and Hungary 10 per cent.
• It had been thought that Italy and Spain would also shrink because of their very low birth rates. But immigration into both countries has recently been even higher than it is here. Between 2000 and 2005 net immigration averaged 500,000 a year in Spain and 350,000 a year in Italy. As a result the populations of both are now expected to level peg, but this will not stop them ageing dramatically. By 2050, a third of all Italians are expected to be pensioners.
Around the world, by mid-century the UN reckons that there will be over a billion more Asians, just under a billion more Africans, 200 million more Latin Americans, 130 million more North Americans – and some 40 million fewer Europeans.
The Power of Numbers – Why Europe Needs to Get Younger by Richard Ehrman, is published by Policy Exchange and the University of Buckingham Press. Price £12.99 ·
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