Study Shows Europe's Population Falling

Birthrates across Europe are falling, says a new study by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development. Reiner Klingholz, the institute's director, says the region's population will be constant over the next 50 years thanks only to immigration.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Birth rates in the European Union are so low that the population of the continent is declining. According to a new report, by the year 2050, the population of the 27-member nations of the European Union, plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, will be 52 million less than it is today. Unless there's immigration to offset that decline - that's a drop of roughly 10 percent from today's levels. And it reflects a range of forecasts for different European countries and regions.

The study was issued by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development. Demographer Reiner Klingholz is the director and he joins us from the German capital. Welcome to the program.

Doctor REINER KLINGHOLZ (Demographer; Director, Berlin Institute for Population and Development): Hello from Berlin.

SIEGEL: How does the outlook for the European Union compare, first of all, with other regions of the world?

Dr. KLINGHOLZ: We have two greater shrinking regions in the world: one is Russia. Russia is definitely shrinking already today. And Europe would be on the shrinking path if there won't be no immigration. But we expect immigration so we think that the population of Europe will be merely constant over the next 50 years.

SIEGEL: Well, that would be a shift of about 10 percent of people coming from other parts of the world to the nations of the European Union.

Dr. KLINGHOLZ: That's right. And perhaps it come from other part of the world because fertility rate in most countries in Europe are well below the replacement level of 2.1 children per couple. And we only have a handful of countries that merely reach replacement levels.

SIEGEL: Well, first, what are the regions of your - what are some of them, in any case, that face the most severe population declines?

Dr. KLINGHOLZ: That's mainly in Eastern Europe and Southern Europe. We have countries from Poland down to Bulgaria, Germany, who started very early with low birth rates into 70 years already, plus Spain and Italy - they all have birth rates between 1.3 and 1.5 children per couple. And that means that today's generation is replacing itself only by two-third.

SIEGEL: Now, something very surprising in your study is the country which has the highest birth rate of the 30 countries that you studied. It's Iceland.

Dr. KLINGHOLZ: Exactly. Very far away from continental Europe. Iceland is a miraculous state. It has a population of only 300,000. But if you look at it in detail, we see that it's probably the most modern state in Europe, has very high income levels, very high evolved industry and very good social security systems. People work a lot there. And in addition to that, they have the highest birth rate. So all of the countries of Europe could learn a lot from Iceland if you would look a bit closer.

SIEGEL: But here's one thing they would learn: that in Iceland, which has, as you say, the highest birth rate of the 30 European Union member countries plus the three others that you've studied here, Iceland also has the highest rate of births out of wedlock.

Dr. KLINGHOLZ: That's right. And that shows that modern societies, where you have equal gender condition, the marriage on the paper doesn't mean a lot.

SIEGEL: And indeed, 65 percent of Icelandic babies are born to unwed mothers, you found.

Dr. KLINGHOLZ: Exactly.

SIEGEL: The picture of these countries 40 years from now or more than that, in 2050, would be, with the exception of Iceland, which I guess is one of the most homogenous societies in Europe, would be of a much more ethnically and racially diverse continent than we see today.

Dr. KLINGHOLZ: Definitely. Yes. Due to the immigration from other part of the world which even, in fact, Iceland - Iceland is not that homogenous anymore as most people think because education levels in Iceland are so high that cheap labor cannot be fulfilled by the local population. So they have to import people who work in the construction sector, work in the fish factories, et cetera. So there is a considerable immigration into Iceland as are all European countries face this phenomenon. And the question is how good can they integrate the migrant into the labor market because that's the most important step in integration.

SIEGEL: Well, Dr. Klingholz, thank you very much for talking with us about your study.

Dr. KLINGHOLZ: Okay. Thank you.

SIEGEL: Reiner Klingholz is the director of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development. The institute has just released a study called Europe's Demographic Future: Growing Imbalances.

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