DUBLIN—A demographic report recently published by the European Commission provides the latest facts and figures that assess where Member States stand in responding to the challenges of demographic change. The report mentions Ireland at several locations as one of the most unique and dynamic populations in the EU.
High birth rates after World War II led to what is often referred to as the baby-boom, which lasted into the 1960s. The latest Demography Report emphasises that these baby-boomers are now reaching their sixties and are beginning to retire from the labour market. This marks a turning point in the demographic development of the European Union, with ageing no longer something that will happen at some point in the distant future; it is starting now.
As of 2010, the oldest populations are in Germany and Italy, with median ages of 44.2 and 43.1 respectively; the youngest population by far is in Ireland, with a median age of 34.3.
The report shows that fertility continues to rise slowly across Europe, and in 2009, 5 million babies were born in the EU-27. Fertility rates have increased from below 1.45 children per woman to 1.6. However, for a population to be self-sustaining, a rate of 2.1 children per woman is required.
Fertility is one main driver in population change. Low fertility rates contribute to population ageing, and the current levels of fertility in the EU means that the EU population will start decreasing in 2050-2060. The population in some Member States is already decreasing due to low fertility rates in the past.
The report points to modern family policies that allow young couples to have the number of children they wish to bear. The modest increase in fertility results from somewhat unusual family building patterns: countries with fewer marriages, more cohabitation, more divorces and an older average age of women at childbirth tend to have higher fertility.
The increase itself is observed mostly in the Central and Eastern EU Member States, where fertility had dropped significantly in the recent past.
The highest fertility rate is in Ireland (just above 2 children per woman) followed by France (just under 2). The lowest rates are in Latvia, Hungary and Portugal, at just above 1.3.
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