Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Mobilizing the Full Potential

by Laura 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.

There is also the important question of what population load can be sustained by the European (or any other) natural environment. Working to increase the population in order to limit tax rates or to improve some abstract economic measure might be counter-productive.

Perhaps another approach would be to accept that with modern technology, people live longer, and that the economic system must be adjusted to accomodate that change.

And then there is the question of how many people are really needed: One might argue that the post-agricultural, pre-industrial age population (global value of a few hundred million) should be the target, since that was clearly a sustainable figure.

by asdf on Tue Feb 28th, 2006 at 10:06:42 PM EST
asdf, thank you for the interesting approach on the topic. I agree with you that modern technology has increased the average life expectancy. And, yes, the aging people are now being targeted by the EU politics as potential working force. As to the exact numbers of the needed working force, I don't have them, sorry.
by Laura on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 06:34:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There's a cultural element as well: in some countries, women that go back to work after having had a child are seen as "abandoding" their family and their role. Such social pressure really does not help birthrates (and the result is that those women that want to work have no children, while those that have children are kicked out of the labor market). Germany and Switzerland are in that case, for instance.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 03:35:43 AM EST
Jerome, thank you for your contribution on the topic! I find it very useful that you reveal a typical cultural insight on countries like Germany and Switzerland. (I sympathize with these women completely.) Another important insight of the cultural aspect I want to point out also is the position of the Church and its role in the society. Therefore, in Ireland for e.g. we have very high rates of marital fertility, mostly because it is a strongly Catholic state. Even though the rates have diminished, for 2005 the average fertility rate is 1.9, in comparison to EU 1.5.
by Laura on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 07:17:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So do you attribute France's 1.9 rate to the church as well?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 10:46:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I love low fertility rate. Yes, peoepl get old.. great...Productivity is increasing every year. The question on whether people can retire with some money is purely political and not eocnomical.

I like low birth rates... I hope all the world would do the same.

Besides, everything is fixed in one hundred years....the transition to new forms of energy is a much more difficult problem to solve thant fertility.

The goal of fertility policies is not to have children but to have WHITE children...If there were this lack of babies.. well you just have to IMPORT it... ( he he he he I love to use the word import for babies...) Call me an idealist antiauthoritarian anarchist.. but as any physicis can attest when there is a gradient there is a force.. and I am all for letting the gradient equilibrate.. so inmigrants.. PLEASE COME.

A pleasure.

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 10:03:32 AM EST
There does seem to be a certain undercurrent to all of this talk of low fertility doesn't there?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 10:08:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, yes, I do, in deed. I think that the belief system does matter when it comes to deciding whether you want to have more children or not. I am not saying it is the only factor that counts, but it definitely influences the behaviour of the parents.
by Laura on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 01:19:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
kcurie, thank you for the comment:) However, I actually disagree with you for several reasons. I think that every single country in the world is pretty much dependent on its working force. It has to do with the amount and the quality of the goods it produces, also the taxes that are collected from the working people are the greatest part of the state budget. And everybody is dependent on the state budget to a certain extent. And the pensioners are the most vulnerable group of all, because their pensions are paid by the state.
As to the importing of black babies or people in general, let's call it opening to the Asian and African countries...well, how do you suppose that those people from different cultures can successfully integrate into the European societies. First of all the language barrier will be an obstacle and so on... I guess that what you wrote was just some kind of a joke. And, please, don't get me wrong, I did not want to offend you in any way...I am just saying what is my opinion on the matters that you mentioned. Thanks again!
by Laura on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 10:47:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Offend me? No way no way no way....I do nto even on waht thing I could be offended.

I was pointed out a little bit sarcastically that the underlying idea on fertility policies is basically to have children of the same colour of skin, culture, or any other trait of the majority. If there would be a real deep problem with new children/inigration  you would have just to open the border to foreign people.

If you really need them so badly, as they claim, you can always pay them a language course. I know there are literally thousand of people willing to learn a language and live here in Europe.

So, in a word, if you do need kids, the best way is to pay for language courses for free inmigration. It will pay off more than tryitng to convince a reluctant family to have one more child.

I agree with you on the work force issue, it is important to make the transition smoothly from high fertiltiy to low fertility,but this is accomplished by increasing the number of people willing to work... and in case of need, open the door to inmigrants. Pressing the governemnt to keep the benefits and fight back this crazy neo-con neoliberal self-destruction policies is another important way to smooth teh transition (and also probably helpful for the economy sicne this money is directly spended on the natioanl economy).

The money addressed to families should be for helping the family  not for helping the family have more children.

It is my humble opinion.. this time not sarcastically.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 11:07:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
kcurie, thanks again for your comment. It sounds pretty reasonable to me. However, I think that the cultural differences between the West and the East are not only in the language, but are a lot deeper. A few days ago I read The West: Unique, Not Universal by Samuel P. Huntington . He talks about the gap between East and West that just cannot be ignored and he explain in detail its origins. He calls it cultural exceptionalism. Maybe this is one of the reasons why we had such devastating clashes in France recently.
by Laura on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 01:53:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the other hand, immigrants are needed to deal effectively with the problem. And I mean migrants also from outside Europe, because those in Europe won't be sufficient as a number to satisfy the demand of working force in the EU.
by Laura on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 02:11:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was exactly thinking on those.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 02:22:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Laura on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 02:54:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd be very careful with Huntingdon. He picks out his evidence to suit his thesis. I'm not at all sure that he explains what he thinks he does.

It's also worth noting that Jerome amongst others wrote some diaries pointing to a lot more prosaic reasons for the clashes in France than Huntingdon's glamorous "Clash of Civilisations" theory.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Thu Mar 2nd, 2006 at 10:17:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sounds like steaming racist nonsense to me.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Mar 2nd, 2006 at 10:19:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As an old guy and recent European immigrant, I can only feel that this is sensible:

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.

And meanwhile, us youthful old folks with leftist ideals will become the leaders (hopefully good ones...)

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 04:46:18 PM EST
Dear whatabout, thanks a lot for your comment. I really like your attitude towards the aging issue.

And still, I wonder if the question of preserving one's identity will be a adequately handled by EU politicians. Or in other words, do you think that there could be a common European identity for all the EU residents? Can we talk about European Public Space?

Thanks again:)

by Laura on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 05:03:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a debate that has been raging from day one here at ET. As far as I can tell, most of us here are Pan-European...ie, Pro-Europe vs Nationalistic...though, that said, there are also good things occuring in individual countries that must not be tossed out. Its is finding a balance, I think...and it won't happen over night, that's for sure. I like differences too, myself, but not to accentuate them either.

As for me, I'm an older (53) American in Switzerland...I will never be a Swiss, though may spend most of remaining days here. I was being both sarcastic and hopeful about aging boomers being a postive force as we age. I can only hope...but hten, Bush is a boomer too, and look where he has taken things...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 05:22:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And by the way, Laura...great first diary! Thank you! Look forward to reading more of your work! Cheers!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 05:24:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dear whataboutbob, I really appreciate your comments! Thanks a lot:)
by Laura on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 05:29:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are two separate issues with population. One is the absolute size and the other is the age distribution. The absolute size is seen as a problem by some politicians, but this is not really the case. After all, all the places in the world once had societies with smaller populations and were functioning. Those of us who think that there are already too many people in the world think this is a good development.

The other issue is the age distribution. It is true that the population is getting older in certain places, but that is mostly due to the decline in the death rate. If the death rate had stayed stable the drop off in birth rate would have just led to a smaller population eventually. So the important thing is to adapt the society to the existence of more old people. There are lots of things that can be done. For example, people could have two careers. One during their normal work years, and the other a "retirement" career. Many tasks which are under performed these days can be done by older people. This includes things like tutoring or baby sitting. Providing companionship and/or housekeeping services for those who can't do for themselves. Other service things which can be done remotely or without much physical effort can be done. Instead of telephone support in India, it could be done from a person's home.

There will also be improvements in technology which will keep people in better health in old age. Changes in the aims of society are also possible. Without the need for people to accumulate "stuff" at such a rate the need for manufacturing, distribution and sales activities decreases. This allows fewer people to satisfy smaller demand.

The false belief that economies need to grow in order to cause industry to grow and wealth to increase is what underlies much of the concern. A steady-state economy will not be subject to the same pressures.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 07:17:53 PM EST
rdf, thank you for expressing your opinion on the matter. I like your ideas pretty much. I guess they could be very useful especially in Western Europe. But for a future EU member state like BG, I don't think it will really work, at least in regard to the current economic situation. First of all, here the majority of people are quite poor. There are not enough children for the kindergartens and quite many of them have closed down. Moreover, most of the households cannot afford a housekeeper anyway. What our pensioners do is either work as guards or sales associates for something like $100 per month. And finally, Bulgaria has one of the highest income taxes in Europe. No wonder that our population is diminishing so rapidly... I call this a catastrophe.
by Laura on Wed Mar 1st, 2006 at 07:47:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I just want to add (from the viewpoint of an ordinary Bulgarian observer)that another very typical characteristic of BG aging population is that they engage primarily in agricultural work. They  produce and sell vegetables or fruits on the open and closed market places. And for the urban aging Bulgarians what is left, as I mentioned above, are mostly the positions of guards and sales associates. I think we can call this kind of mobilization of the aging in BG, can't we.:)

Now, I want to share with you one of my biggest concerns about BG economy as a whole. The thing is that a considerable part of BG GDP was and is formed by the production of our nuclear power plant. We used that electricity both for our domestic needs and exported it to Turkey and the other neighbours of ours, as we could offer the cheapest electricity on the Balkans. Bulgaria operated 6 units at its Kozloduy nuclear power plant-4 VVER-440/230s and two VVER-1000s. In 1999, nuclear power supplied 47 percent of the country's electricity. Now, we've lost a substantial part of this power resource as we closed 2 and will close 2 more units this year, which will definitely have a negative effect on our economy. I guess this will affect to a certain extent not only the aging, but just everybody in the country.

by Laura on Thu Mar 2nd, 2006 at 02:29:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Europe is suffering a decrease in the sperm count of eligible males. No-one has yet come up wth an explanation.

This trend is coupled with a recently detected decrease in a hormone that women produce (whose name escapes me for the moment) during intercourse, that descends to meet the sperm hooligans and kicks them into whipping their tails all the more strongly as they swim up to Nirvana.

Since we are seeing falls of 50% or more, I would rate this is an extremely important contributor to falling birth rates.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Mar 3rd, 2006 at 08:54:45 AM EST
here in italy about ten years ago i was driving along listening to the radio, and had to pull over to digest some news that shocked me:

young soldiers on military service were beoing given porn mags and asked (told?) to masturbate. the sperm was to be frozen and used for the future italian gene bank, as the population was declining so rapidly.

i never heard any more about this...

i used to believe (since reading 'diet for a smal planet') that we could support all the billions on the earth, if we could only get our diets back in line with nature.

i still believe this theoretically, but my biggest fear about overpopulation these days is the chaos of crowds, scaled up.

as for immigration, it's inevitable and natural, yet a lot of what is felt to be racism stems from a natural desire to be surrounded with a matrix of dependability; one sleeps better at night knowing a bit about one's neighbours.

if we open up to the financial benefits of immigration - and we can't afford not to, imo - then we have to take their attitudes also, we can't just tempt them here with higher wages and expect them to leave their cultures at the fortress gate.

as kc curie says, our energy problem is the biggest obstacle right now; a more disciplined and thrifty society will be more pragmatic, less fraught with consumerism, planned obsolescence and myopic planning.

aside from the sperm count issue, which is very important for its reflection on the effects on the human body from decades of pollution and overstress, there is the notion of trust in the future and the ability to guarantee an environment of security, financial and otherwise, in which to satisfactorily raise a child. after observing the scene in italy, i believe this to be true here.

people know the dangers of raising single children, so perhaps wait to have one till they are stable enough to have more.

the anomaly of france: i'm telling ya, it's the CAP and the love for the fruits of the land.... or those nice nuke plants making them feel all secure! (see, we won't have to raise our son to just go die in some oil war)

<snark, maybe>

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Mar 5th, 2006 at 01:27:08 AM EST

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]