Home > Uncategorized > European fertility. The real population problem.

European fertility. The real population problem.

People are streaming into Europe. The real question is: why did this take such a long time! American and Dutch and IS and Syrian and (since today) French bombs are part of the answer. And it might well be the case that IS is not only actively dislocating people but is also a supplier of trafficking services… Create your own market! But hey, between 1945 and 1948 12 million displaced Germans flocked to West-Germany and Austria but within ten years these countries knew labour shortages and West-Germany started to sign treaties with countries like Italy which enabled an inflow of immigrants from these countries. And the real problem may not be the inflow of people…

The real problem may be this:

The number of Germans between 0 and 5 years old is less than half the number of 50 – 55 years old…

In 1965 the German fertility rate plummeted and has never really recovered. At the moment (2013) it is 1,4, slightly higher than in the preceding years but still way below the 2,1 children per women which are needed for a stable population. At the same time, average life expectation in the entire EU is still rising with almost 3 months a year – Germany is rapidly becoming a granny state. And Germany is not the only European state heading that way (personally I welcome dwindling populations. But a fertility rate of 1,2, like in Portugal, is not consistent with ‘dwindling’ but with ‘plummeting’ – within a few decades the number of 0-5 year olds in Portugal will be much less than hafl the number of 50-55 year olds).


A case can be made that Europe should welcome young people wanting to live there. But it almost seems as if the countries with the lowest birth rates (with the exception of Germany), like the Eastern European countries, are least eager to accommodate newcomers. And it is, of course, true that a country like Portugal has sky-high unemployment. But it also knows an almost ridiculous low fertility rate of about 1,2 – close to half the replacement rate – low demographic growth does no solve unemployment. Portugal does not need less people. It needs more jobs. And, thus, more expenditure and especially more durable investments (10 million Portuguese -> 100 million square meters of solar cells). And investments in people. All these newcomers in Portugal will have to learn Portuguese. And German.

Aside – an unlimited inflow of people might lead to tens of millions of immigrants within a few years. Which will be difficult to handle. And there certainly are cultural and economic problems with second and third generation muslims in Europe. And the history of European Jews of shows that hatred is always just around the corner – surely when unemployment is high. There was a reason why, unlike today, European governments for decades pursued policies aimed at low unemployment instead of large bank balance sheets, high household debts (including study loans)  and inflated asset prices. They might go for this again.

  1. anobserver
    September 7, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Recently, I heard a German demographer discussing on the radio the issue in the context of the on-going refugee crisis.

    Specifically concerning Germany:

    1) Immigration in the past few years has had a profound effect on the population _level_: for several years, the population of Germany was decreasing; now it is increasing again. A clear trend reversal.

    2) On the other hand, that influx has had a completely negligible effect on population _aging_. To reverse the demographic imbalance you describe through immigration only, some 3.5 million additional immigrants per year during an entire generation would be needed — which would lead to doubling the total resident population of Germany. Wholly unrealistic.

    His conclusion was that with such low fertility rates, it is impossible to stop, let alone reverse, population aging and, in the long run, natural population decrease.

    A complementary statistic makes the point you raise even more incisive: the median age of the German population is 45.1 years for men and 47.2 for women (from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_median_age). If one considers that the average year of menopause is about 50 years, then Germany is nearing the point where it will no longer be able to reproduce itself. I know that these are averages, there are young Germans who can have children, etc, but effectively, it is not just that fertility is below replacement levels — the natural evolution of the German population has been actually negative for years in absolute terms.

  2. September 8, 2015 at 5:28 am

    It all goes to show the dismal lack of quality of leadership in the world today. The flow of refugees from the Middle East and Africa is happening as a direct result of policies to destabilize regimes in those areas by vested interests in Europe and North America.
    What a bunch of Yahoos!

  3. Erik
    September 8, 2015 at 6:40 am

    You certainly show that fertility rates are lower than in the past. But how is lower population growth a problem?

    • merijnknibbe
      September 8, 2015 at 7:53 am

      It’s not about lower popularion growth. It is about fast decline. Lots of sparsely populated countries thrive. Lots of densely populated countries thrive. In Portugal however, the number of 0-5 year old will be about 35% of the number of 50-55 year old. This will mean (also considering fast pace of the increase of life expectation) that the pension age will have to be increased to over 70 years of age. More importantly (from a socialist perspective there is nothing wrong when able bodied and minded seventy somethings work, to the contrary, though they will have to be master of their jobs), there will be a very large number of demented or otherwise severely unhealthy elderly, which will be a very heavy burden for the young – which need time, wealth and money to raise their families.

      • Erik
        September 8, 2015 at 6:28 pm

        Maybe I am being dense, because I still fail to see real negative consequences to declining birth numbers. For example, the increasing relative burden of caring for the elderly: I would argue that we clearly have the means to deal with this, simply given that unemployment is high. Paying people to work in old folks homes rather than paying them to remain unemployed will be a no brainer when push comes to shove. No need to raise pension ages – again, high unemployment shows that squeezing a few extra years of labor from our workforce is just not necessary.

        I am not necessarily bashing just you Merijn in this regard, I see this written all the time but I always feel the causality of “declining birthrates” -> “bad things happen” is not properly motivated.

        Dean Baker writes a lot about this, ex http://www.cepr.net/blogs/beat-the-press/if-japan-s-workforce-is-struggling-to-support-a-growing-elderly-population-why-are-they-working-fewer-hours
        His regular counterpoint to arguments about the problem of demographic changes is that positive effects from productivity increases will dwarf even the most pessimistic forecasts about aging populations. I tend to agree.

    • Merijn Knibbe
      September 9, 2015 at 9:55 am

      Eric, we agree. In the end, a lower fertility rate is the solution, not the problem. In the meanwhile, however, it may pose some problems – and though I think that Dean Baker has some very good points *for the USA* we have to take into account that the USA fertility rate is around 2,0 while the fertility rate in many other countries is around 1,2 – 1,5. Which really makes a difference.

      • Erik
        September 9, 2015 at 8:10 pm

        I suppose that may very well be true. Intuitively, an abrupt reduction appears riskier than a gradual change.

  4. Joseph Feredoes
    September 8, 2015 at 7:17 am

    Please… everybody must read Huntington: Clash of Civilizations (written nearly 20 years ago). After reading it / but only after! / I am willing to discuss the matter,,,

    • merijnknibbe
      September 8, 2015 at 8:15 am

      I haven’t read it, so I’m not going to discuss it. But there is a reason why I included Turkey, which has a Fertility rate of 2,08 – i.e. below the replacement rate. It is interesting to look at the low Iranian fertility rate, too.

  5. Macrocompassion
    September 8, 2015 at 8:17 am

    It would appear that those countries welcoming new immigrants have sensible macroeconomics where there are opportunities for new workers to help and to be helped by their hosts. Those countries that do not welcome immigrants have poor government where due to the degree of corruption, there are few or no opportunities to find jobs and consequently their absorption of new workers is unlikely to work well. So the measure of willingness for newcomers is inversely related to the amount of corruption and the associated privilege-withholding for the average citizen of these badly managed places.

    The greatest withholding is in the rights for access to useful land and natural resources.

  6. September 8, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    I have a hunch that the same kind of things happened in the Roman Empire?

  7. Bernard M
    September 8, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    The reason why anti-immigration sentiment is high is not based on economic reasoning but on social underpinnings.

    Economic growth or economic well-being is a very biased indicator of general well-being. If you have roads pitted with potholes and everyone is damaging his car driving through them, GDP will grow for some time (even though some part of that might replace other consumption or savings). However, you can scarcely make an argument that pitting roads with potholes is something conducive to social well-being. It is the same with immigrants. There are immigrants that can contribute to a society – and indeed they do – and those who don’t. The same argument goes for immigration. You cannot distinguish between the good and the bad immigrants in terms of a monetary yardstick. Growth will occur whether an immigrant goes to prison on some crime (more wardens need to be employed) or whether that immigrant is genuinely working and contributing to his/her host society.

    One of the oddest things with African immigration, for instance, is that to get an African chef specialising in African cuisine you have to fight the authorities for months and months until the chef can stand a tiny chance of getting a visa, and then someone coming in on a dinghy (and some of them are the worst recidivist fabric of the societies they would be leaving) has to be accepted.

    I don’t think that this is so much an issue of whether immigration is desirable or not – I think that this issue has been long superseded. It is however an issue of which immigrants to let in and which ones not to for the benefit of that society that was originally in a territory.

  8. Joseph Feredoes
    September 9, 2015 at 1:21 am

    One politically incorrect aspect is hardly mentioned: various civilizations simply do not mix. Western style democracy is not acceptable in most parts of the world, even in countries joined to the EU recently. The rules simple do not accept other opinions within their own society, let alone social standards of other civilizations. After winning an election, they try to eliminate all opponents.
    Personally, I am not comfortable with the sight of burkas in shopping centers (who know who is hiding behind it), with women swimming in the sea in full dress, women following the men a few steps behind etc. Also, I would not like wake up 2AM on the sound of a prayer from an imam (as you do in Cairo, for example). These people bring their civilizations with them and try to maintain (or change and impose) social standards well outside western acceptance. Clearly most of them come to advanced countries to enjoy higher living standards, education, health services etc. This would require integration and willingness to accept standards of the host country. Many immigrants are successful in achieving this goal, but Islam is not only a religion but also a lifestyle and culture. As a result, full integration is impossible. The worst example is a Melbourne group which wanted to apply sharia law in their community. And this is the root of the problem. I am an immigrant myself and I fully accept – and follow – social and general standards of the host country. Sorry to say, but if newcomers are not willing to do this, please do not come. We achieved our standards after several decades of fight (for example, women’s rights) and not willing to go back. I am sure some of the above statement constitute politically incorrect, but fortunately I am not looking for votes.

    • September 10, 2015 at 4:17 pm

      Right on Joseph.
      And being of a suspicious mindset, I believe that this “crisis” has been deliberately created by destabilizing a number of countries in the Middle East and Africa. Libya is a prime example where NATO arial forces were used to back up gangs of young bucks in four wheel drive vehicles with mounted 50 calibre machine guns. Syria is another example.
      What is the agenda here?

      • JdeV
        September 11, 2015 at 9:26 am

        Helge / Joseph. Re Samuel P Huntington.
        May I suggest you read:-
        Sen, Amartya.
        “Democracy as a Universal Value.”
        Journal of Democracy Vol 10 No 3. July 1999

      • Joseph Feredoes
        September 16, 2015 at 1:52 pm

        The solution – if there is one – very complex and well outside the comprehension of western politicians. Libya, Syria, Iran, West Bank etc. are completely unsuitable for democracy as we know it. Elections imposed by western countries lead nowhere (see Afghanistan, Iraq), tribal wars continue, fraud and corruption rampant …
        I suppose that the solution should be something totally different, some kind of dictatorship. Of course this is unacceptable to people believing in western social standards. What sort of “dictatorship” I am talking about?
        For example, the UN may have a special task force (not only soldiers, but economists, social workers, local advisers …) which could take over administrative tasks (banks, legal services, basic supplies, army allocations, schools etc.) of the country in question, at least for a certain period. During this period local people could be trained and gradually introduced into power under the supervision of the above task force. This way local warlords could be eliminated and corruption could be kept under control. The distribution of foreign aid would be strictly supervised, instead of directed into the pockets of a few privileged politicians.
        One thing is sure. If these countries want to remain in the middle ages, let them live alone. But then forget about aid etc. If they want to join to the UN, they should follow certain conditions. Relevant charters should be signed (human rights, trade etc.). I am not an expert in this field. The above suggestion could be the starting point and let people with more experience to work out details and carry out practical steps.
        Again, one thing is sure. Current attempts to force western style democracy on this countries do not work. We MUST find another solution.

  9. Joseph Feredoes
    September 12, 2015 at 12:00 am

    You are also right, Helge. Just one more note. The Lybian, African and other Middle-East crisis are caused by historical events, mainly by the imperial powers (first of all UK) which imposed artificial borders in the area. The other main cause is the Muslim faith itself. Most of the world’s problem these days are caused by religious conflicts. The US and other Western powers naively believe that democracy will solve their problems – quite the contrary. These societies are lightyears away from democracy as we understand it. Dictators like Khadafi, Assad, Tito etc. were capable for keeping a lid on these societies albeit with force and suffering to minorities. Look at what happened in Kosovo and the Balkan. As soon as the NATO and the US and its allies removed dictators in the naive belief that people wanted democracy mayhem followed. Egypt is a good example.
    Lets acknowledge: western style democracy is not suitable in most part of the world- maybe a few decades or centuries later as a result of social evolution, as happened in the West.

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