For several decades, the European Union has noted changes in its demographics, particularly in age; changing demographics indicates a population age structure adjusting to changes in living conditions. Some experts on demography have predicted this may cause a change in productivity and economic growth of EU states, set to decline with the ageing of the population. This is because of the reduction in the working-age population. This change in demographics stems from advances in medical technology extending the lives of older Europeans as well as a decrease in fertility rates among younger Europeans. That Europeans can expect longer lives, and therefore Europe’s population grows older, is an indication of high quality of life; furthermore, the world trend is an increase in population age, meaning Europe is simply further along. However, the increase in Europe’s population could be detrimental if the challenges it presents are not addressed by the EU.
A foremost problem of an aging population is that its dependents could outweigh working populations, as seen in some member states already. This could put tremendous pressure on the social programs of the aging member state, as an increased amount of elderly people will be utilizing social security programs and pensions. On the other hand, those member states should not simply reduce social security programs, as it can leave a large proportion of their population vulnerable to poverty. Therefore, the demographic change must be considered while drafting and implementing social welfare policies. Furthermore, the segmentation of labor markets between younger and older workers must change if member states intend to keep productive markets; currently, young people are much more likely to have part time or temp work, whereas older people tend to have full time work often with benefits and security. To combat the challenges of a changing population, EU states must ensure their young people can have ample opportunities for a well-educated and well-employed future.
In 2006, the European Commission identified goals that can contribute to positively addressing the impact of an ageing population. In the Commission’s release, EU nations are called upon to develop policies that encourage demographic rejuvenation through better conditions for families and the reconciliation of work and family life. In practice, this would mean greater access childcare facilities, longer maternity leave, and further policies that would promote the ease of having children.
1. When a member state’s dependent population exceeds its working population, how can the EU ensure its dependent population does not suffer poverty?
2. To what extent do we build infrastructure to accommodate demographics that change routinely?