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.
(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.
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!