Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Geriatric EU: After Birthrate Studies, Brussels Calls for Family-Friendly Workplace and Increased Immigration

Sources: Financial Times- Call For Family Friendly Jobs to Sustain EU Birth Rate; European Parliament Website- An Aging Europe: MEPs call for social security reform

The news hit Europe yesterday that its citizens are getting collectively grayer each year. While the average European citizen is currently 39 years old, today’s report by the EU Employment and Social Affairs Committee estimates that by 2050 that average age will increase to 49 years. Another study released yesterday by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development says that by 2040, Europe will have almost twice as many people over age 65 than under 15. This is problematic for social programs, social security, and income tax revenue that are highly dependent on a robust work force. For Europe’s GDP to grow, the birth rate must be expanded or at least maintained, a greater percentage of European women will need to join the work force, or both. The author of the ESAC report, Gabriele Stauner, also suggests changing current policies to allowing Europeans to work past retirement age and giving more working immigrants legal status.

European fertility rates vary greatly from 3.21 births per women in Kosovo, the highest, to 1.2 in Moldova, the lowest. Inside the EU, the rates are lower, with the highest birth rate at 2.21 births per woman in northern Finland and 2.09 in Lancashire, UK. EU countries that have passed progressive family and employment policies, such as France, Iceland, Ireland, and Norway, have an average fertility rate of 2 children per woman. In Greece, Italy, Poland, and Spain however, rates are significantly lower despite fewer woman participating in the work force and in theory, having more time to raise children. Sweden has dealt with declining birth rates by passing a range of social and economic measures to help students who are parents.

Director of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, Reiner Klingholz, says that the Catholic Church’s agenda to push traditional family values (keeping the woman in the home) negatively affects birthrates, as 3 of the 4 most struggling countries are predominantly Catholic. In contrast, measures that promote women in the workplace, such as quality childcare facilities and full-day schooling, have a positive effect.

Only time will tell whether birthrates will recover but both studies show that in the mean time, Europe will have to look to women and immigrants to boost the dwindling workforce in an increasingly instable job market.

After catastrophic events in world history such as WWII and 911, birthrates skyrocketed. It is clear that employment rates have already plunged and will continue to do so as a result of the financial crisis, but how do you think birth rates will be affected? Why?

No comments: