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Human Development - Demography

Europe: Population by Age and Sex, 1950 - 2050; Proportion of Elderly, Working Age Population, and Children

Note: This animation was produced with the author's DemoGraphics '06 program.

Source: United Nations Population Division (2005), World Population Prospects, 2004 Revision

Europe will experience a dramatic process of population aging. According to the most recent UN population projections, the Old Continent's elderly (above age 60) will be almost 35% of the population by the middle of the 21st century. Slowly, politicians and the media begin to understand what this means for social security, health insurance and pension systems (it is a shame that demographers have consistently predicted Europe's aging problems for more than 25 years - being widely ignored by both politicians and the media!).

While the problems of population aging for Europe's generation-contract-based pension systems are now slowly becoming public knowledge, the consequences for overall economic growth and technical innovation are still widely ignored. With one third of the population older than 60 years, the Old Continent will have serious difficulties by the middle of the 21st century of sustaining those permanent (technological) innovations that are necessary for economic prosperity. We may be healthier and more active at higher ages, but this does not compensate the lifecycle-related decline in creativity and risk-taking. The huge elderly population of Europe in 2050 may be active and healthy enough for playing golf or traveling around the world (if they can still afford it after the necessary adjustments of their pension systems), but they will hardly compete with young Americans or Chinese in their 20th in high-tech research or engineering.

It has to be emphasized that these UN projections include a significant net-immigration into Europe! To stop or significantly slow down the process of population aging, immigration from outside of Europe would have to be much larger than in the past (for details see In-depths analysis).

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Copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved.