Fri Mar 3rd, 2006 at 04:19:36 AM EST
The share of the young population in Europe is disturbingly decreasing.
In 2004, the population aged up to 14 years made up 16.5 % of the total population compared with 18.8 % in 1993. The population aged 15 to 24 years had a share of 12.7 % (2004) as against 14.5 % (1993).
From 1993 to 2004, the share of the population aged over 50 years increased all over the EU. The share of the age group 65 to 79 years rose from 10.9 % of the total population in 1993 to 12.5 % in 2004.
The reasons for this phenomenon are both financial and cultural.
There are fewer and later marriages, more marital breakdowns and a rise in births outside marriage. In 2003, there were only 5 marriages per 1 000 inhabitants in the EU compared with almost 8 in 1970. The average age at which people first get married has increased: for men, from 26 years in 1980 to over 30 today, and for women from 23 to 28 years. The proportion of divorces is estimated at 15 % for marriages entered into in 1960, and at around 30 % for those entered into in 1985.
In Sweden, more than half (56 %) of the children born in 2003 had unmarried parents.
The total fertility rate that allows comparison between the fertility of a population in different reporting years, decreased from 2.7 in 1965 to below 1.5 in 1995 where it has remained since.
From the front page ~ whataboutbob
European's growing concern about aging raises the issue of mobilizing the full potential of EU population. This concept is explicitly discussed by
Monsieur Jerome Vignon - adviser to the President of the European Commission in Responses to the New Demographics: Present and Future Strategies for the European Union. He explains in detail how the EU is considering handling the issue. For example, EU core active ageing practices include: lifelong learning, working for more years, retiring later and more gradually, being physically and mentally active after retirement and engaging in health sustaining activities, also upgrading quality of health care in a broad sense. Such practices aim to lower dependency burdens and substantial savings in pensions and health costs.
Furthermore, immigration is becoming a more important issue, because immigration inflows are likely to increase. And increased immigration, in turn, can make important contributions to labor supply and fertility levels in the EU. Hence, member states must ensure the economic and social integration of immigrants. Integration should include access to the labor market, education and language skills, housing and urban issues, health and social services, social and cultural environment, as well as civil and political rights.
Increased fertility is also an explicit aim of European policies. The list of important policies consist of: access to affordable housing, quality health care during pregnancy and infancy, quality childcare, good schools, community environments suited to the needs of children and parents, social services in support of families, jobs that can be combined with family obligations, affordable access to further education etc.
Contemplating on the aging challenges in the EU, it is even more interesting to take a look at France's baby boom. What is the reason why while birth rates in the rest of Europe are in decline, French women are having more children every year? The average number of children per woman is now 1.9. As I mentioned above, part of the reason for this may be cultural, but there are also other important factors, including the financial one. The French state classifies a couple with three or more children as a "famille nombreuse" a status, which opens the door to all kinds of benefits. Such families enjoy deduction on taxes; and on train fares. Moreover, mothers can be on a state-funded parental leave and are guaranteed their jobs whenever they want them back. Next comes France's 35-hour working week. This means more free time to spend with the children, therefore, parents can enjoy the kids company and want to have more of them. Extra leisure time also means extra time to make more babies.
Now, I think it will be attention-grabbing to examine the country with the one of the highest mortality rates in Europe, i.e. Bulgaria.
The problems that Bulgarian politicians aim to tackle are pretty similar to EU's: low fertility rate 1.37; high death rate 14.25/1 000, especially high child's mortality rate, consequence of the great number of abortions and the poor sexual awareness of the population; increasing share of aging population 17% are the pensioners; high number of illiterate Roma children and adults; failure to integrate the Roma minority as a whole; increased number of abandoned areas like villages with high level of unemployment; migration of Bulgarian young people out of BG; and low quality health care.
Therefore, BG demographic strategies are a bit similar to the ones in the EU: reducing the tax burden for the families with more then one child and allowing social care only for children who attend school on a regular basis - this is how the level of literacy will improve. Special privileges for parents that are willing to have a second child should be introduced like preferential (housing) credits. The level of healthcare also has to be improved and also the level of sexual awareness especially in Roma population. Integration of Roma ethnos to Bulgarian society by strengthening the importance of Bulgarian language in the educational system for e.g. Easier procedures for getting BG citizenship is another thing; intensifying the role of the Church in society in order to have more sustainable marriages. Finally, foreigners should be allowed to purchase BG land in order to create an incentive for more people to come to BG as an additional working force, investors, consumers or taxpayers.
I personally imagine mobilizing the full potential of EU population as apparently a very crucial strategy. It can (at least partly) solve the problem with the shortage of working force (due to aging) in the EU. This means that the working people won't be suffocated by the tax burden they have to pay in order to provide the pensions for the multiplying retired ones. On the other hand, it is easy to imagine how difficult it will be if the share of the retired becomes bigger than the share of the working people as it is the tendency in Bulgaria. However, if the strategies are implemented and we have a maximum number of people in the working force so that the current shortage is reduced, then there is going to be more money for the state budget and everybody is going to be much more better-off. Otherwise, if adequate measures are not taken on time by the national governments, then the whole economy and sustainability of each such country will be endangered. There is nothing worse for a country to lose its population. And this is what will happen eventually to the states like Bulgaria if this radical political change does not take place. Furthermore, I evasion the type of policies that the EU Commission suggests as pretty tangible and realistic. France is the perfect example in support of this. However, I think that right now such types of policies will be extremely difficult to implement in Bulgaria, for example, as it is too poor. However, it is still possible and very much needed for Bulgaria to undergo a taxation reform similar to the one in France in order to overcome the current demographic catastrophe.