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Brussels, 17 March 2005

Europe's population is getting older. How will this affect us and what should we do about it?

The EU is facing unprecedented demographic changes that will have a major impact on the whole of society. Figures in the Green Paper on Demographic Change launched today by the Commission show that from now until 2030 the EU will lack 20.8 million (6.8 per cent) people of working age. In 2030 roughly two active people (15-65) will have to take care of one inactive person (65+). And Europe will have 18 million children and young less than today.

"The issues are much broader than older workers and pension reform. This development will affect almost every aspect of our lives, for example the way businesses operate and work is being organised, our urban planning, the design of flats, public transport, voting behaviour and the infrastructure of shopping possibilities in our cities," said Mr Špidla. "All age groups will be affected as people live longer and enjoy better health, the birth rate falls and our workforce shrinks. It is time to act now. This debate on European level is a first step."

Raising life expectancy

People are living longer and older people are enjoying better health. By 2030, the number of "older workers" (aged 55 to 64) will have risen by 24 million as the baby-boomer generation become senior citizens and the EU will have 34.7 million citizens aged over 80 (compared to 18.8 million today). Average life expectancy at 60 has risen five years since 1960 for women and nearly four years for men. The number of people 80+ will grow by 180% by 2050.

Fertility rate

The EU's fertility rate fell to 1.48 in 2003, below the level needed to replace the population (2.1 children per woman). The paper shows that the EU's population will fall from 469.5 million in 2025 to 468.7 million in 2030. By contrast, the US population will increase by 25.6 per cent between 2000 and 2025. However, demographic decline is already here: in one third of the EU regions and in almost all of the regions of the new member states the population is already falling.

Ageing work force

From 2005 to 2030 the number of people 65+ will rise by 52,3% (40 mio), while the age group of 15-64 will decrease by 6,8% (20,8 mio).

The ratio of dependent young and old people to people of working age will increase from 49 per cent in 2005 to 66 per cent in 2030. To offset the loss of working-age people, we will need an employment rate of over 70 per cent.


These demographic changes have major implications for our prosperity, living standards and relations between the generations. Modern Europe has never had economic growth without births. It is the result of constraints on families’ choices: late access to employment, job instability, expensive housing and lack of incentives (family benefits, parental leave, child care, equal pay). Incentives of this kind can have a positive impact on the birth rate and increase employment, especially female employment, as certain countries have shown. However, 84% of men surveyed by Eurobarometer in 2004 said that they had not taken parental leave or did not intend to do so, even when informed of their rights.

“Politics alone cannot solve the problem”, said Commissioner Špidla, “they have to go hand in hand with a picture in society that does not stamp women who re-enter the labour market after maternity leave as “bad mothers” and men that take care of children as “softies”.”

What should we do?

Many of the issues are the responsibility of the Member States but they concern the whole of the EU. The Commission wants to open a debate on how to tackle them and what role the Union should play. For example, should EU policies for work-life balance and equal opportunities be harnessed to boost the population? How should immigration into the EU be managed?

The Commission will organise European Conference on July 11th in Brussels where it will gather experts, high-level policy makers, civil society, to discuss the follow-up on this Green paper.

Communication from the Commission Green Paper "Faced with demographic change, a new solidarity between the generations" COM(2005) 94

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Written contributions can be sent by post to:

Green Paper on Demographic Change


J-27 01/122

European Commission

B-1049 Brussels

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