New EU population projections published

Researchers at TOP have published new population projections for all twenty-eight member countries of the European Union and for the EU as a whole. These projections differ from the 2019 United Nations’ Population Division projections and other recent projections in two main ways. First, they project a wider range of fertility and migration scenarios farther out into the future. Second, they link these scenarios explicitly to particular family support and immigration policies.


Policy-based Population Projections for the European Union: A Complementary Approach,” by Philip Cafaro and Patricia Dérer, is now out in the journal Comparative Population Studies. As policy-based projections rather than forecasts, these new projections do not try to maximize predictive success regarding what will happen. Instead, they seek to accurately show the long-range demographic impacts of the full range of current policy choices. The authors’ central claim is that their projections clarify potential policy impacts better than recent projections from the UN, Eurostat, the IIASA, and various national statistical bureaus.

Population projections to 2100 under a dozen different policy scenarios can be found for all EU member-nations in Appendix III of the study. In addition to providing these new projections, the authors draw five main conclusions regarding EU population policy choices going forward:

(1) Migration policy offers greater scope for influencing future population numbers in the EU than changes to family support policies, or changes to other fertility-related economic policies. This holds true at both the national level and EU-wide.


(2) Egalitarian economic and family support policies and increased net migration have significant potential to mitigate excessive population decreases in the EU’s lower fertility countries. While the dangers of small population decreases are often overblown, too large or too quick decreases could cause social problems, so it is good to know that they are manageable.

Poland Combo

(3) In most cases, EU nations are well placed to stabilize or slowly reduce their populations. Many European countries have high population densities and thus relatively high levels of greenhouse gas emissions and other impacts on nature; decreasing their populations could help decrease these impacts. However, European policymakers do not treat ending population growth as a desirable goal or connect it to environmental objectives.


(4) Neither an egalitarian shift in family support policies nor increasing immigration levels are effective remedies for population aging in the EU. Instead, the most effective remedies for the economic and social challenges caused by aging societies will likely involve increasing labor-force participation and other systemic changes.

(5) Demographic policies have the potential to significantly raise or lower future populations, and hence to make it harder or easier for EU nations to create ecologically sustainable societies. Europeans’ great contribution in the twenty-first century could be to model successful societies that do not depend on continued growth, but that instead prioritize societal well-being and an acceptance of limits.

Stabilization of Europe’s national populations and a slow decrease in the future could mean less crowded urban areas, fewer new buildings and roads fragmenting the landscape, and more chance to protect and rewild natural areas. This will not happen automatically, but could be a real possibility if proper policies are implemented.

National park in the least densely populated country in the EU, Finland

Interested readers can freely download copies of ”Policy-based Population Projections for the European Union” and the full projections. In addition, we are working with software developer Balázs Forián-Szabó to create an interactive animation of the projections. Watch this space for further details!

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6 thoughts on “New EU population projections published

  1. The use of the word ’fertility’ (degree of ability toreproduce) when the issue under consideration is ’fecundity’ (number of offspring produced) is now too entrenched to be corrected so this will probably be counter as one of the improvements in the English language that one has to endure. Those of us who can recall the heady days of the 1960’s will remember the slogan, ’two will do’ even then limiting reproduction was known to be a good thing.

  2. It is obvious that this updated study gives population projections an added value: they highlight mechanisms which may determine population growth or degrowth, instead of mere extrapolating ongoing trends. The study shows what could be done in order to control population size.
    Once again, the authors presented an excellent dashboard enabling politics to control population by turning two knobs, labelled “Fertility” and “Net migration”. With the first knob average fertility rate can be adjusted: turning it up would enhance family-friendliness of a society and result in a higher TFR, turning it down would lower it. Similarly, turning the “Net migration” knob up, would result in population growth, turning it down in population decrease.
    According to this model, politicians just have to set the right priorities in order to control population. Creating a family-friendly society by providing ample time off to raise children, reimbursement for lost wages, a guarantee that one can return to one’s job, opportunities for part-time jobs and childcare for young children would raise TFR; doing the opposite would lower it. Unfortunately, such measures are overruled by economic circumstances. First of all, there must be a sound financial base for a family-friendly policy. Secondly, housing shortage is a severe restriction if one is planning to start a family. Thirdly, lack of job security as a consequence of temporary contracts and student debts will prevent prospective families from hiring or buying an appropriate home.
    Furthermore, it is highly questionable that family-friendly policies in France and Sweden have caused the highest TFR’s of the European Union. Both countries harbour substantial numbers of immigrants from outside the EU which may have driven up average fertility rates.
    But let us turn back to the “Net migration” knob. Immigrants are not a homogeneous group. Among them are refugees, pseudo-refugees, families following recognised refugees, migrant blue-collar workers, white-collar expats and foreign students indefinitely prolonging their stay. Attracting foreign work force can be a condition sine qua non for employers if they want to expand or even just continue their enterprise. Infrastructure and social welfare depend on tax incomes paid by trade and industry as well as by employees. If a nation turns the “Net migration” knob downwards, then attracting personnel will become much harder and more expensive. Profits will fall, local economy will stall, tax incomes will sink and governments will have limited room for manoeuvre to take family-friendly measures.
    Things will be different in the individual states of the European Union, but lack of housing and unemployment are the primary cause of relatively low TFR’s in countries like Italy and Spain.
    A modest case study of The Netherlands will illustrate the problem of the two knobs. “Status quo” net migration is set in the study on 26,427 persons per annum. However, in the last five years there was an annual influx of nearly 4X “status quo” net migration. A substantial number of the immigrants came from the Middle-East and Africa, but most of them were migrant workers from Eastern Europe. They are employed as construction workers, pickers in horticultural and flower industry, shift workers in distribution centres, slaughter houses etc. Furthermore, among them were highly educated people from India working in IT and managing expats from multinationals. Needless to say that this steady high influx of immigrants has a detrimental effect on the carbon footprint of The Netherlands, the availability of affordable housing and road traffic congestions. On the other hand, many immigrants let the Dutch economy bloom, giving the government ample opportunity to turn the “Fertility” knob up by establishing benefits for raising children and economic safety nets.
    My point is that offering two knobs on the dashboard might be an oversimplification of reality. Postponing refugee conventions or restricting freedom of movement within the EU are minor problems compared to the economic primacy. The two knobs could result in a paradox: immigrants are necessary to earn the money for social welfare – which may raise fertility rates. However, their admission will drive up house prices – which may lower fertility rates. Furthermore, a financial global crisis would render both knobs ineffective: austerity measures will both lower TFR and deter immigrants.
    In a former comment I proposed to insert sustainable population sizes for the EU as a whole and its member states. The Global Footprint Network dataset provides us with a baseline measurement of sustainable population sizes in overshoot situations which may vary depending on (1) a substantial reduction of consumption and pollution, (2) measures leading to a raise of biocapacity, or (3) a decrease of the population size by immigration stop or birth control. They would provide politics with the necessary spot on the horizon. Each sovereign nation should be required to eliminate its ecological deficit, making its own trade-off between consumption, biocapacity and population. No country would be permitted to “live beyond its means” by emigration or by exporting pollution. It is likely that, faced with a choice between population reduction or dramatic reductions in consumption, (or other constraints), most people would choose the former. According to the National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts, 2019 Edition of the GFN, the ecological footprint of The Netherlands in 2016 would require 3 earths. For a “fair share” of the earth’s resources the Dutch population of 17 million people should be reduced to 5,7 million. The biocapacity of the country is practically at its maximum, thus if we do not succeed in a substantial reduction of consumption – and first and foremost the emission of greenhouse gases -, a huge reduction in population size is unavoidable if we want to leave a sustainable world to our offspring.
    5,7 million people was the population of The Netherlands in 1908. A tacit assumption is that with that number of humans there will be enough living space for other than humans too.

    1. Dear Raquel,

      please feel free to post any graphs generated using the TOP-grapher wherever you choose.

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