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Brussels, 17 March 2005

Europe’s changing population structure and its impact on relations between the generations

The Commission is launching a public consultation

The Commission Green Paper "Faced with demographic change, a new solidarity between the generations", adopted on 16 March, is a consultation document intended to launch a public debate on Europe's changing population structure and raise awareness of the issues.

In its paper, the Commission tackles for the first time in a holistic approach the issue of demographic ageing, which is not confined to older workers and pensioners. Europe's population structure is changing. Demographic ageing affects the whole of society and has repercussions on all generations.

The number of older workers (aged 55 to 64) will increase by 24 million between 2005 and 2030

The number of people aged over 80 will rise from 18.8 million today to 34.7 million in 2030.

The EU's total working age population (15-64 years) will fall by 20.8 million (- 6.8 per cent) between 2005 and 2030.

Eurostat base scenario, EU25
(in thousands)
Total population
Children (0-14)
Young people (15-24)
Young adults (25-39)
Adults (40-54)
Older workers (55-64)
Elderly people (65-79)
Very elderly people (80+)

There are three different factors behind demographic ageing :

  • a significant fall in fertility
  • a significant increase in life expectancy
  • the ageing baby-boomer generation

The populations of some Member States are already falling :

Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia, Czech Republic

For the development in Member States see :

Of the six most-populated EU Member States, only the UK and France will see their populations increase between 2005 and 2050 (with the UK population projected to increase by 8 per cent and the French population by 9.6 per cent).

In many countries, the falling birth rates are being offset by immigration.

[Graphic in PDF & Word format]

Europe's population is stagnating and is set to decline

The total population of the EU will rise very slightly for the next 20 years and then start to fall. It will rise from :

  • 458 million inhabitants in 2005 to
  • 469.5 million in 2025 (+ 2 per cent)
  • and then fall to:
  • 468.7 million in 2030

In contrast, the population of the USA will rise by 25.6 per cent between 2000 and 2025.

Fertility rates

The EU's birth rate has been falling for 30 years. The total fertility rate for the EU in 2003 was 1.48 children per woman.

Of the ten countries in the world with the lowest birth rates,

  • three are EU Member States: the Czech Republic (1.17 children per woman), Slovakia (1.2 children per woman) and Slovenia (1.22 children per woman)
  • and one is a candidate country (Bulgaria, 1.24 children per woman).

Italy, Spain, Germany and Poland have a fertility rate of less than 1.3 children per woman.

The level needed to replace the population is around 2.1 children per woman.

[Graphic in PDF & Word format]

Rising life expectancy

  • Average male life expectancy at birth for the EU was 74.8 (2002)
  • Average female life expectancy at birth for the EU was 81.1 (2002)
  • Average life expectancy at 60 has risen five years for women since 1960 and nearly four years for men since 1960
  • Average male life expectancy at age 60 for the EU was 19.6 years (2002)
  • Average female life expectancy at age 60 for the EU was 23.8 years (2002)

Rate of demographic dependence

The rate of total demographic dependence (the ratio of population aged 0-14 years and older than 65 years to the population aged 15-64 years) will rise from 49 per cent in 2005 to 66 per cent in 2030

Europe's prosperity and living standards are threatened by population ageing.

There has never, in Europe's recent history, been a period of sustainable economic growth without population growth to create opportunities for investment and consumption.

The annual rate of potential growth of Europe's GDP is projected to fall from today's 2-2.25 per cent to 1.5 per cent in 2015 and 1.25 per cent in 2040.

Successive waves of EU enlargement have accentuated the demographic contrasts.

  • Forecasts for Bulgaria and Romania show negative growth (-21 per cent and -11 per cent respectively by 2030), as do UN forecasts for Croatia (-19 per cent).
  • However, the population of Turkey is set to rise by more than 19 million between 2005 and 2030 (+25%).

Europe is the first region in the world to experience demographic ageing.

The populations of our neighbouring regions in Europe, Africa and the Middle East will start to age much later : their populations are much younger, with an average age of 20 years or less, compared to 35 in Europe.

But China's population will age rapidly and will decline from 2025.

The issues raised by the demographic changes in the EU :

  • How can a better balance between work and private life help resolve the problems associated with demographic ageing and boost the birth rate?
  • What can be done to stimulate greater provision of child-care facilities, and care for the elderly, both by public authorities and by firms?
  • To what extent can immigration offset the adverse effects of demographic ageing?
  • The Commission is also asking whether these effects should be addressed at European level and, if so, with what aims and in what policy areas.

Demographic changes have economic and social consequences for all age groups :

  • Smaller generations of children and young people will increasingly have to take responsibility for larger numbers of people in the older generations;
  • At the same time, young people have difficulty finding employment and are particularly at risk of poverty;
  • Senior citizens are healthier and want to play an active part in social and economic life;
  • Should there be a statutory retirement age?
  • There will be a significant increase in the number of very old people (aged 80+) – the "fourth generation" or "fourth age”.
  • The coordination of national social protection policies is to include long-term care for the elderly from 2006. How can this be used to help manage demographic change?
  • It will affect consumption patterns, business, family life, public policy and voting behaviour. It will also affect the infrastructure of our cities, public transport, design of houses and flat and shopping possibilities. The popularity of the “little shop around the corner” might rise in contrast to the supermarkets outside the

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