This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Demography is the Key to Europe's Sluggish Economy

Europe's relatively dismal economic picture is typically framed in terms of European Central Bank policies (its lack of "quantitative easing" to stimulate growth) and debt in Greece, among other things. But as readers of my book know, the aging population creates a set of significant economic problems that must be confronted or the economy will go into the toilet. This is the point made in a NYTimes Op-Ed today by Arthur C. Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, building on research by their in-house demographer, Nicholas Eberstadt. Brooks's conclusion is one with which I concur (even if I don't necessarily agree with everything that comes out of the American Enterprise Institute):
It is true that good monetary and fiscal policies are important. But the deeper problems in Europe will not be solved by the European Central Bank. No matter what the money supply and public spending levels, a country or continent will be in decline if it rejects the culture of family, turns its back on work, and closes itself to strivers from the outside.
These are exactly the things I was discussing a few days ago with respect to population decline in Japan. As a continent, Europe has not yet teetered into depopulation, but it is on the precipice. Indeed, Eastern Europe is already in negative territory, according to UN demographers. Low fertility and ambivalence, if not hostility, toward immigrants are key elements. But the key, in my mind, is a factor that Brooks did not discuss--the status of women. Brooks interprets France's replacement-level fertility (Europe's highest) as follows:
France has risen to exactly two children per woman in 2012, from 1.95 in 1980, an increase largely attributed to a system of government payments to parents, not a change in the culture of family life. Is there anything more dystopian than the notion that population decline can be slowed only when states bribe their citizens to reproduce?
This is not an accurate representation of French policy. Yes, mother's do receive a subsidy, but the more important aspects of French policy are state-sponsored day care and the legal right that women have to resume their place in the labor force after childbirth, when the children turn three and can go into publicly-funded École Maternelle (nursery school). Making it easier for women to combine children and a job is why France's birth rate is as high as it is, and it is the same reason that puts Sweden right behind France in this regard. In both countries, however, the same socialist spirit that has helped women have children and work has encouraged an earlier-than-desired retirement age. As I pointed out in my most popular blog post of 2014, working long and saving is the key to a successful old age, whether we are talking about an individual or a nation as a whole.

Note that I'll be discussing these issues, especially as they relate to Japan, on NPR affiliate station KPCC in Los Angeles, tomorrow (7 January).

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