Europe's population crisis: Too few babies
October 11, 1999
From Correspondent Margaret Lowrie
LONDON (CNN) -- Though it was a European woman -- a mother from Bosnia -- that gave birth to a boy designated the world's six billionth person, Europe should be the continent least likely, statistically speaking, to welcome a milestone in population growth.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan gave the symbolic honor of Baby Six Billion to a boy born in a Sarajevo hospital shortly after midnight on Tuesday, the day the United Nations Population Fund had estimated the world's population would officially reach six billion. A spokesman said Sarajevo was chosen for the honor because Annan was previously scheduled to be there and not for political reasons.
But while birth rates are exploding in South and West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, population growth is slowing in Europe. Italy and Spain, for example, show birth rates below replacement level.
"All women need to have about two children if the population is to replace itself and in Europe, women are no longer having babies -- or they're having babies in many fewer numbers. So in many countries the number of babies women are having is averaging at just over one," said Ray Hall, a population analyst at the University of London.
Analysts point to several reasons for declining birth rates, including the fact that European women are having children later, contraception is promoted and easily available and European women generally receive a better education than other parts of the world.
Perhaps Europe's biggest challenge is not in learning to control population growth, but in learning how to manage an increasingly elderly population.
Thanks to improved nutrition and medical care, Europeans are living longer. About 14 percent of Europe's population is presently over 65. However, by 2020, that figure is expected to increase to 20 percent, and by 2050, possibly a third of the population will be elderly.
That raises the question: Who will be able to work, and how will European nations be able to pay the pensions of such a large retired population?
"These countries have to struggle with their aging populations, they have to look at different employment patterns and so on. But I think they also have to look at immigration and population policies if they want to increase the younger-age and productive-age population," said Nafis Sadik, of the U.N. Population Fund.
The experts say Europe, as well as the world, has never before had such an elderly population, and they can only speculate on what future European society will be like. Many believe Europe's best option is to find a way to control the decline and make it economically sustainable.
You wouldn't want to live here, report says
The Day of 6 Billion
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