Old Europe, Young World

By 2050, the ratio of working-age to non-working-age people in Europe will fall to around 1.4, while in the developing world it will be considerably higher. Relaxing immigration restrictions would help Europe overcome the negative effects of its aging population, but so would measures aimed at encouraging greater workforce participation by women and the elderly.

As the EU reaches its 50th birthday, many Europeans are entering middle age with it. They are also becoming aware of the potential of demographic change to make Europe’s next half-century very different from the previous one.

The EU’s first 50 years were characterized by a growing population and a high proportion of working-age people relative to children and the elderly. The post-war “baby boom” generation drove a period of sustained economic growth that strengthened Europe’s standing in the world and led to dramatic improvements in its citizens’ quality of life.

The EU’s next five decades, on the other hand, will see the baby boomers moving into retirement, leaving a shrunken labor force with the heavy burden of supporting their elders’ health care and pension needs. Thirty-six per cent of Europeans will be aged 60 or over by 2050, and, despite increasing life expectancy, continued low fertility will mean the continent’s population will begin to dwindle by 2020.

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