Population Policy Dilemmas in Europe at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century

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Abstract

The article discusses issues raised by persistent below-replacement fertility in Europe. The continent's demographic predicament is highlighted by comparing age structures and relative population sizes between populations in and outside Europe—such as those of Russia and Yemen and those of an enlarged 25-country European Union and a 25-country hinterland to the EU in North Africa and West Asia—during the past 50 years and prospectively up to 2050, based on United Nations estimates and projections. Potential geopolitical aspects of the population shifts are considered. European policy responses to them are found largely wanting. With respect to the key demographic variable, fertility, explicit pronatalism is rejected by most European governments. A set of policy measures that commands wide support, with the hoped-for side effect of raising birth rates, seeks to make women's participation in the formal labor force compatible with childrearing. The effectiveness of such measures, however, is likely to be limited. Continued below-replacement fertility, higher immigration from outside Europe, negative population growth, and loss of demographic weight within the global population are safe predictions for the Europe of the twenty-first century.

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