In the last fifty years, the population growth rate in most European countries has dropped immensely owing to the decline in fertility rate. Conversely, life expectancy has been on the incline rising to 79 in Sweden males and 82 in Italian females, the countries with the highest life expectancy for males and females respectively. In such a population structure, various problems accrue. The most important issue would be to identify the cause of problems that are associated with this form of demographic structure. Studies have been done to establish the problems that would be attributed to the increased longevity of the population or aging and others done to establish the effects of the declining fertility and activity rate to the socioeconomic lifestyle of these countries.
From these studies, propositions have been developed with some people arguing that increased life expectancy is more detrimental while the others propose the role of reduced fertility to the overall problems experienced in this society. In this essay, I seek to propose that the declining fertility and activity rate among the Europeans rather than aging is responsible for the problem. I shall review the demographic structure of various European countries and argue that the declining fertility level has an effect on the economic growth of the European countries. I will further show that immigration and increased longevity of the population are indeed a blessing rather than a curse as argued by the critics of the increased life expectancy. I will then conclude the essay by proposing that the Europeans should work to increase on their fertility and activity level as a solution to the problems experienced in Europe today.
The population of most European countries has increased albeit slowly over the last century despite the continued childbearing and immigration that is experienced in this region of the world. One of the reasons for this observation is the reduction in mortality and reduced rate of child bearing leading to the replacement rate of less than 2.1. For a sustained population growth, the replacement rate should be 2.1. It is a paradox that while most countries do not have a sustainable replacement rate of childbearing, the population has not stagnated over that period. Two explanations explain the paradox; first, the rate of immigration in these countries has been on the rise with every passing year, and secondly, the life expectancy has increased from as low as 65 to 82 in some countries. Many countries have, therefore, been comfortable with the population growth until in the recent past, when a change in demographic structure has hit on the economic growth and sustainability in these countries. Some Countries like Hungary were stricter with immigration backed by the political demand in those countries.
The fertility rate (Average number of births per woman) among women from European Union members is about is 1.5 which signal future decline in population. Contrasted with other nations, USA has a rate of 2.1 which equals the replacement rate while China and Japan are at lower levels than EU countries at 1.7 and 1.3 respectively. Africa has the highest rate of five while the global average is 2.7. The total fertility rate for European Union members has been on the decline since 1980 and as of 2007, Slovakia had the lowest rate of 1.24, while France had the highest rate of 1.98. The other cause of projected future decline in population growth is the increased age of childbearing among women (Tempo Effect). Between 1980 and 2007, tempo effect rose to 28 years while some countries record an age of 30 years. This postponement in the time of child bearing is evidenced by the decline in fertility rate among women less than 30 years and an increase in women above 30 years for the same period. The postponement by women to give birth is associated with various factors like the increase in women joining labor force, increased level of the divorce rate and delayed marriages, delay in childbearing and increase in cost of raising children. Another factor that has been implicated in delaying child bearing is the change in social capital which further exerts social demands when raising children.
Various countries are hit by the desire to remain childless. However, the general feeling is that this desire may have little impact on the number of people that will have the desire in the future. For instance, traditional countries that hit the mark of childlessness as Germany where half of women were childless in 1965 have experienced modest changes in the women tendency to bear children. The social distortions explain the disparity witnessed in different countries when reviewing the changes in demographic structure. For instance, different countries have varying expectations placed on women and men based on gender. Again the social trends determine the women preference. This why German women prefer having one child and small family sizes and the national average of fertility is lower than standard replacement would require. However, in other countries the postponement in child bearing does not necessarily lead to lower population as the fertility is recuperated later as women bear children in old age.
The effects in the choices made by women in different countries are illustrated by the demographic findings of 2011 where Germany recorded the lowest number of people within the working age yet they had the highest dependency ratio due to age. Ireland, another European state on the other side had the lowest proportion of the aged population. During this period, only turkey and Iceland had a higher proportion of the younger population. This scenario represents an aging population in Germany and the consequences of the imbalance that result from an increase in old population. While Germany has been an economic giant over the past centuries, the aging population poses a major challenge to the economic growth of the country compromising the future sustenance of the country.
On the other side, Ireland present a country with the youngest population among the European members and actually, all over Europe. Historically, they had the youngest population size and in the recent demographic statistics, she was experiencing the highest emigration rate. While emigration may be a challenge to countries like Germany, Ireland represents a country that boast of the youngest population and consequently the working group. In the 2012 statistics, they had the youngest population in Europe. Another boost to its population is the surge in the number of immigrants in the recent years. Unlike Germany and other EU countries again, the fertility rate in Ireland is increasing and is above the replacement rate of 2.1. The change in demographic structure of the country has great significance in the socio-economic development of a country.
As earlier indicated, the demographic dynamics of a country determines has a positive correlation with the socioeconomic status of a country. To argue increased life expectancy in the country is a problem would be tantamount to blaming the development in the health sector, and the quality lifestyle people invest to live longer. One should, therefore, consider the gist of the problem and consider the cause of the problem. In the industrialised countries like Germany, the low fertility of the women is the main cause of economic crisis that is projected to happen in the future. Apparently, ageing and declining workforce is the main propellant of flexible migration policies which lead to immigration. However, immigration is not sustainable in the long run, therefore, economic crisis is imminent. The phenomenon is further complicated by the fact that the number of aged dependents outnumbers those they depend on. With an ageing population, the government is also strained of resources to pay the pension schemes as the contributors are few.
The solution to the increasing dependency and ageing population is, therefore, to develop policies that will improve on the fertility rate of the nation. Some countries have tried to develop policies to motivate women to bear children to the extent they have been promised care for their children or remuneration for a baby born. In Germany and Austria, this policy has not worked, and some demographers have argued such policies will not be effective in solving the declining fertility in Europe. While the pronatalist policy may be effective in some countries, it faces a challenge and is not welcome in most countries. Other demographers suggest that the most effective policies that would reverse the declining trend in fertility would be policies that discourage women from delaying childbearing. This argument is more sensible because the cause of reduced fertility is delay in the time of child bearing among women rather than ageing. Based on the studies of German and Austria, it will be very difficult to effect such policies.
The effect of ageing and reduction in fertility and action rates negatively affect economic growth stimulators has ageing workforce is associated with increased retirement. Germany for instance may have to rely on immigrants for labour provision if they have to retain the economic superiority. The problem with such reliance will be a problem arising from the international migration laws regarding labour. Secondly, immigration can neither be reliable or sustainable in the ever changing society that we live in. The main cause for emigration in the recent past was political instability, poor pay and civil turmoil in the mother countries. Most countries are, however, pulling out of those strands. Another cause of migration was unemployment in the mother countries or poor working conditions. Currently, there is a reversal in trend as the once poor countries are picking up economically and may be more attractive in the future. For instance, Mediterranean countries like Morocco and turkey have improved and grown in the recent years reducing emigration rate of their citizens.
Conversely, has the smallest population compared to nations of comparable size in Europe. Unlike other countries, the low population was attributed to the famine that hit the country years back in the 18th century and massive emigration that followed. Unfortunately, the emigration has continued for a very long period. However, the population of Ireland has increased recently due to increasing birth rate and immigration. The population of Ireland is very young, and it is projected that the trend will continue for the next fifty years or so. Just like Germany, the demographic structure of Ireland impacts on the employability and the general economic growth of the country.
Economically, Ireland is one of the countries in Europe that has recorded an alarming growth in its economy in the recent past. Compared to of comparable size, the economy of the country is the best, the historical problems notwithstanding. So many factors can be associated with this growth. Naturally, economic growth is associated with the amount of resources a country has. These resources could be financial, material or human resource. Human resource is one of the most important resources any country economy is pegged on because they determine productivity and consequently the economic growth. For Ireland, human resource is one of the benefits they can boast off compared to other countries. The larger proportion of its proportion is within the employability bracket thus strengthening its workforce and increasing the production of the country.
Most countries are suffering a very large proportion of unemployment in Europe owing to the ageing population with a limited number of citizens in the employability bracket. A case in point is the ageing population in Germany and France. These countries are relying on immigration for their labour force. Decreased birth rate has occasioned this phenomenon, and it is expected to continue in the coming years. While a country like Germany may record a lower leave of unemployment statistically, in essence, it has more people depending on the employed people because of the effect of ageing. Consequently, this phenomenon may pull down the economy of the country immensely.
Another reason declining fertility and activity is considered a problem in Europe is the changing trend in economic growth. As earlier discussed, the available human resource in a country highly impact on the economic growth of the country. Economists are worried of the changing trends in demographic structure. The decrease in the number of working class may lead to reduced production in the industries and other production units. This drop will decrease economic growth or lead to an economic drop down.
Another reason you consider low fertility a problem in Europe is that it negates the health of the nation. A nation where there are no children being born is akin to unhealthy nation. While aging is assign of improved health of the nation, the country should be able to replace the dying with new babies. When the number of death equals or is higher than the birth rate, it depicts a dying nation. This is the case with most European nations where the population growth rate is negative or equal to zero. Aging weakens a nation and the only way to replenish it would be through child bearing.
Another trend that may change the demographic structure of Europe is the rate at which migration is taking place. There is both intra migration within the European Union countries and inter migration. The changing trend in laws regarding migration in Europe is to a larger extent occasioned by the competition for migrants. This phenomenon has led to a situation where migrants are being naturalised in a bid to retain them in the country. Italy, France and Germany are a case in point where naturalisation is increasing at an alarming rate. Demographers, however, think that this trick is not sufficient enough, and the population decline in these countries will continue.
Looking at the future though, this trend will not continue forever, and European countries will have a population crisis. One, the propellants to migration will be altered. With the younger nations growing economically and requiring labour force in their industries, they will curtail emigration that will affect the intra migration among the European Union countries. Immigration policies are also facing political resistance from various countries wearing down the chances of getting a sustained immigration from the countries outside European Union. Such forces are being witnessed in countries like Ireland where emigration as substantially reduced with the improvement in economy and Hungary where political resistance against immigration is a major impediment. Another setback migration may face citizen attribution quagmire. This problem will be most prevalent among Europeans Union members thus affecting intra migration. Few European migrants would wish to attain citizenship in another country. For immigrants from outside Europe especially from developing countries, most would want to be given permanent residency in their countries of migration. In effect, this would necessitate policies to protect them against social exclusion in those countries.
It is, therefore, prima facie that European nations cannot reliably rely on migration to solve their changing demographic structure for sustainable social and economic development. Polices regarding employment, professionalism and childbearing, may suffice as the most effective.Economists believe improving the professional skills of the working class may improve the activity and productivity of employees thus getting the best from them. However, there will be attributed problems to this because the diminished population further creates an unprecedented demand for labour and nations will have to invest a lot to retain their employees. The last option would be setting policies that target women. There should be policies that will control the child bearing age and incentive be given to encourage women to bear children. These policies may involve setting encouraging better social structures like housing availability, or making flexible the working conditions for mothers. Countries could increase the maternal leave for mothers who should be paid, increase the paternal leave following childbirth and increase the annual leave for employees.
In conclusion, the changing demographic structure may present a crisis in Europe. Unlike the critics of ageing and increased life longevity, the low fertility and low activity rate present real problem In European countries. The most effective solution to the problems in Europe would be to set policies that aim to alter the demographic structure by increasing the size of the middle class that could be employed. These policies should improve the replacement rate by raising it to at least the 2.1 that can sustain a working group and reduce the potential socio-economic crisis that come with ageing.
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