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Brussels, April 1st 2011

Third Demography Report: population is becoming older and more diverse

What is the Demography Report?

The Report is published every two years by the European Commission and provides the latest facts and figures that are needed to assess where Member States stand in responding to the challenges of demographic change. This year the report is a joint undertaking with Eurostat, and has a special focus on mobility and migration.

It will be presented during the thematic week Europe for Families, Families for Europe – Population Issues and Policies Awareness Week organised in Budapest by the Hungarian Presidency.

What does the Report tell us about the ageing population?

High birth rates after World War II led to what is often referred to as the baby-boom which lasted into the 1960s. The latest Demography Report emphasises that these baby-boomers are now reaching their sixties and are beginning to retire from the labour market. This marks a turning point in the demographic development of the European Union. Ageing is no longer something that will happen at some point in the distant future; it is starting now. As of 2010, the oldest populations are in Germany and Italy, with median ages of respectively 44.2 and 43.1; the youngest by far in Ireland, with 34.3.

Is it true that Europeans don't make enough babies?

The report shows that the fertility continues to rise slowly and in 2009 5 million babies were born in the EU-27. It has increased from below 1.45 children per women to 1.6. However, for a population to be self-sustaining, 2.1 children per woman is required.

Fertility is one main driver in population change. Low fertility rates contribute to population ageing and the current levels of fertility in the EU means that our population will start decreasing in 2050-2060. The population in some Member States is already decreasing due to low fertility rates in the past.

The report points to modern family policies that allow young couples to have the number children they wish to bear and thus help raise the number of births as a good way to improve employment, in particular through better reconciliation between paid work and family commitments.

Which countries show the highest fertility?

The modest increase in fertility results from somewhat unusual family building patterns: countries with fewer marriages, more cohabitation, more divorces and an older average age of women at childbirth tend to have higher fertility.

The increase itself is observed mostly in the Central and Eastern EU Member States, where fertility had dropped significantly in the recent past.

The highest fertility is in Ireland (just above 2 children per woman) followed by France (just under 2). The lowest rate are in Latvia, Hungary and Portugal, just above 1.3.

Fertility rate in the European Union

Does life expectancy continue to rise?

In 2008 life expectancy for the EU-27 was 76.4 for men and 82.4 for women. Differences among Member States are still very significant, ranging from almost 13 years for men to 8 for women. At the top are Spain, France, Italy and Sweden, nearing 80 years for the men and 85 for the women.

Life expectancy has been increasing in an almost continuous and uniform trend at the rate of 2-3 month every year, and is the main driver behind the population ageing. On the one hand, it is a symptom of increased prosperity and it carries opportunities for living longer healthy and active lives; even as the population becomes older, the average remaining life span is actually increasing. On the other hand, it requires changes in our habits, regulations and policies to ensure that the same prosperity that has led to increased life-spans will not be undermined by these unsustainable increases in dependency.

Infant mortality in 2009 is also still relatively high in some countries like Romania (10.1 ‰) and Bulgaria (9.0 ‰), even though a reduction of about 50% for EU-27 has been achieved over the last 15 years. Socio-economic status appears to play a major role, especially in some central European countries. Consequently, by improving the life expectancy of disadvantaged groups, a general increase in overall life expectancy can be expected.

Life expectancy in the European Union

Does it mean that people live longer healthy lives?

Yes, we will possibly see the improvement in healthy life expectancy, by delaying the stage at which physical conditions start to deteriorate rapidly, thereby postponing death to a later age.

Some data points to healthy life expectancy rising faster than life expectancy, opening up more opportunities for active participation in society at older ages. Other statistics, however, point to stagnating or even receding healthy life expectancy. More evidence and analysis is required on this important subject.

Longer healthy lives are a pre-requisite for active ageing. Moreover, in a context of rising life expectancies, a rise in healthy life expectancy will helps curb the rise in health costs associated with ageing.

In order to help ensure that quality of life for older people, and not only length of life, is enhanced and in order to help meet economic challenges presented by caring for ageing populations, the Commission recently launched a pilot European Innovation Partnership aiming to add two healthy life years for the average European by 2020. Also as part of the Innovation Union initiative, the Commission is funding a number of research projects aiming to understand the impact of population ageing on European societies and thus to help policy makers make decisions on health, social and economic policy. The Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), which has received €30 million in EU funding, recently became the first European research infrastructure to benefit from a new EU legal status giving it many of the administrative advantages and tax exemptions enjoyed by major international organisations, with much simpler procedures (see IP/11/323).

Has there been some changes in family patterns?

Families are also undergoing dramatic changes. The number of marriages is decreasing while the number of divorces and births outside marriage is on the rise. There are now about four divorces per every ten marriages and more than one-third newborns are born outside a marriage. There is a great disparity among Member States as to the age at which young adults leave their parents home and start to live independently or begin their own families. The lack of job security and/or the perspective of unemployment can act as a deterrent here and delay family formation.

The largest differences among Member States are found in family formation. In Romania and Lithuania there are over 6 marriages per year per 1000 inhabitants. In Slovenia, just above 3. In Belgium, there are 3 divorces per 1000 inhabitants every year; in Ireland and Italy, less than 1. In Estonia, almost 60% of the children are born outside marriage (single women or non-married couples; in Greece, only 7%).

What is the most visible development in the population?

The rise of the oldest-old. The share of those aged 80 and above is rising fast. It is around 4% now, but will rise to 12% in 2060. The growing share of the over-80 will put strain the provision of services for the elderly, mainly health and long-term care. The share will be highest in Italy and lowest in Luxembourg and the United Kingdom.

Division of EU population per age group

Are migrants integrating into the EU populations?

A study on the impact of migration since 1960 has shown that the migration has had an important influence on the size and composition of the European population. The populations in France and Germany would be over 10 million smaller each if there had been no migration; conversely, Portugal's would have been over 2 million larger.

The integration of immigrants across generations occurs rather rapidly. In most countries with a substantial proportion of second-generation immigrants, these perform in education and on the labour market much better than first-generation immigrants and almost as well as those of no foreign descent; this applies to descendants of citizens from other Member States and of immigrants from non-EU countries. Nevertheless, even after three generations – the time it takes usually for full integration – descendants of migrants maintain some attachment to the countries of their ancestors, through their knowledge of foreign languages for example.

The main challenge will be to further improve the conditions for their integration, to allow them to fulfil their ambitions and to give them the opportunity to contribute fully to their host societies. If we manage to raise their education and employment levels, migrants and their descendents will be able to mitigate the effects of the future decline in our working-age population.

In France, among those born outside the EU, 43% of the women and 36% of the men aged 25-49 have a low level of education (ISCED 0-2, or lower secondary at most); among those born in the EU but from 2 parents born outside the EU, the share goes down to 25 and 29%; with only one parent born in the EU, to 21 and 18% and this is the same level as those who are not second generation migrants. In Belgium, this convergence at the second generation is much slower and children of migrants retain difficulties. Similar outcomes apply to the labour market.

What is the most important development in migration and mobility?

Migration is changing. Large-scale migration and mixing of cultures are clearly not new phenomena in the history of the EU. Past flows have had a different impact on the size and structure of the population in most EU-27 Member States, and they have contributed to a more European outlook among its citizens. Immigrants often want to maintain a close attachment to their country of origin, but these linkages tend to weaken over time.

Alongside traditional migration and mobility, new forms of mobility are taking place. People are moving abroad, mainly to other Member States, for shorter periods to seek work, pursue their education or other life opportunities. These mobile people tend to be well-educated young adults, towards the higher end of the occupational scale. Increasingly, this form of mobility is based on personal preferences and life choices, and not only on economic opportunities.

The increased propensity to be mobile across borders could be of great benefit to the EU by enabling a better matching of skills and language ability with job opportunities. The results of a Eurobarometer survey point to the presence of a diverse, growing number of mobile young people characterised by a common interest in looking beyond national borders.

Increased short-term and circular mobility across Member States allows for a more efficient economy and more opportunities for mobile citizens while not depriving the Member States of origin of crucial manpower; as such, it does not contribute to a brain-drain. Moreover, it fosters a closer Union via an exchange of experiences.

What happened to migration flows during the economic crisis?

Although net immigration to the EU was halved, the total number of foreigners within EU-27 borders continued to rise, with few exceptions. New Eurostat data on residence permits throws light on the reasons for migration from non-EU countries. The available data show that the decline in migration is largely due to a reduction in migration for employment and family reasons, while the number of residence permits issued for education and other reasons increased slightly from 2008 to 2009.

From 2007 and 2009, immigrant flows have gone down in Ireland, Spain and Italy, and remained stable in Germany and the UK. They increased in Belgium and Sweden. Fewer people overall migrated from non-EU countries, especially on work and family-related permits; Education permits are up slightly.

What is the profile of new mobile Europeans?

Alongside traditional, long-term migration, new forms of mobility are taking shape. Europeans move more often than before and for shorter periods. They are no longer only 'pushed' by difficult conditions at home, very often they now feel rather 'pulled' by opportunities abroad. Among these Europeans on the move young adults, well-educated and at the higher-end of the occupational scale are the most prevalent. As they move abroad and return home, they create connections and disseminate knowledge and experiences. Most of this mobility is short-term and has little negative impact on any populations. This type of mobility was intended by the EU when it created its policies of free movement within its borders. The survey shows that one in five of the EU-27 respondents has either worked, or studied in another country, lived with a partner form another country or owns property abroad. One in ten of the respondents plan to move to another Member State in the next ten years.

See IP/11/391

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