Determinants of Low Fertility and Ageing Prospects for Europe

Lutz, W. ORCID: (2000). Determinants of Low Fertility and Ageing Prospects for Europe. In: Family Issues Between Gender and Generations: Seminar Report. Eds. Trnka, S., pp. 49-65 Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. ISBN 9282895734

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At the moment birth rates in Europe are not just low, they are very low and at levels that were unthinkable a few decades ago. All of the 42 countries of Europe have fertility rates below the so-called replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. And a majority of 24 countries even has fertility levels of 1.5 or below. In these countries, one generation will only be replaced by two-thirds as many people or less.

Together with increases in life expectancy, these low fertility rates cause a significant ageing of the population age structure. This ageing process is already under way but will gain momentum and speed over the coming years. In exact numbers, the population of the European Union ages by 2.5 months every year or by two years per decade - and this trend is likely to continue well into the next century. The proportion of the population below age 20 is likely to decline further from more than 23 percent to 19 percent, while the proportion above age 60 will increase from 21 percent to 34 percent. Simultaneously, the mean age of the European population, presently at around 39 years, is likely to reach 45 years by the year 2030.

Why does the mean age of the population increase less rapidly than the individual age of each one of us, which of course increases by one year per year? The difference between individual ageing and population ageing is that in a population, new members are being added every year at the very youngest age. This is why we speak of population renewal or reproduction; demographers measure reproduction rates as a key to understanding future population dynamics. At the individual level, there is no reproduction; even our own children cannot perpetuate our individual life. On the societal level, it is evident that children guarantee the survival and further evolution of the population.

Moreover, in a population closed to migration, the laws of population dynamics clearly indicate a long-term scenario such as this: If reproduction remains below the so-called replacement level (and life expectancy has an upper limit), that population is going to be heading for significant population ageing followed by population decline and ultimately by extinction. The lower the level of reproduction as measured by fertility rates, the faster this process will come about. However, with possible extinction still centuries away and even significant population declines not yet foreseen for the next half century, the main cause for concern for Europeans over the next few centuries will be population ageing.

This article will address three questions in this context: First, we will study what we can assume today about the future path of population ageing in the European Union. Next, we will focus more specifically on the possible future course of the birth rate, which is the main determinant of population ageing. Finally, we will address the question of whether public policies can possibly influence the course of the birth rate in the future.

Item Type: Book Section
Research Programs: World Population (POP)
Bibliographic Reference: In: S. Trnka (ed.); Family Issues Between Gender and Generations: Seminar Report; Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities pp.49-65 (2000)
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 02:12
Last Modified: 05 Aug 2023 05:00

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