European Demography

Good News At Last? Demographers, policy-makers, and ordinary citizens have long been concerned about the current demographic situation in Europe. European fertility has dipped well below a replacement fertility rate and inspired the term “lowest-low” fertility, referring to a total fertility rate (TFR) below 1.3.[1] The emergence of lowest-low fertility occurred relatively quickly. In 1990, no European country had lowest-low fertility, but by 2001, over 70% of Europe’s population resided in a country with fertility at or below 1.3.[2] Decades of low fertility mean that the European continent is now facing an ageing and shrinking population. The percent of the European population over 65 years old is projected to increase from 17% to 27% by 2050, and the total population of the continent is estimated to decrease from 745 to 716 million.[3] Several European countries can expect their populations to decrease by more than 15% by 2050.[4] Many fear that Europe’s declining population means her culture will fade and her global power will diminish. Some have even labeled the phenomenon the “death of Europe”. This label, however, is a misnomer. The European population is indeed ageing and decreasing, but this demographic winter is not as severe as it first appears. Nor is low fertility and ageing a uniquely European phenomenon. Approximately 50% of the world population lives in a country with below-replacement fertility. Of the ten most populous countries with below-replacement fertility, only two (Russia and Germany) are in Europe.[5] Europe is anomalous only in that—unlike many other populations that have experienced lowest-low fertility—its fertility has shown signs of recuperating. Caution: Fertility in Europe May Be Higher Than It Appears Much of the documented lowest-low fertility in Europe was the artifact of measurement issues rather than an accurate reflection of real decreases in completed cohort fertility. An increase in the average age
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