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 13th (it will be out in January 2020), 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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Friday, November 11, 2011

The Demographics of the Euro Crisis

Over the past several days, the news has been heartening that Greece and Italy seem to be instituting the kinds of austerity measures necessary to bring their economies under control in the face of the huge global financial crisis. The underlying reasons for the global crisis, especially the impact on southern Europe--Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, in particular--are many and varied, and are well laid out, in my opinion, in Michael Lewis's bestselling book, "Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World." But there is also a long-term underlying demographic component to the question of "why southern Europe"? And, no, it's not the aging population--all of Europe is dealing with that. Rather, the issue is the status of women. Greece, Italy and Spain have the lowest percentage of women in the labor force of all European countries, according to data from the OECD, a Paris-based think tank. They are squandering huge economic resources in the same way that Japan does. When you add to that the fact that Greece and Italy have the lowest retirement ages in Europe, the waste of human productivity is even more noteworthy. So, it is not just austerity that is required in these countries. They also need to have what amounts to a cultural revolution to bring women more fully into the labor force and to keep people in the labor force for many more years than is the current practice. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi!

    I fully agree with this analysis. Though demographics are only underlying factors, the rising public debt issue in Southern European Countries is clearly related to low employment rate for women, early retirement patterns and relatively generous retirement benefits. The public debt issue has risen slowly at first. For years, politicians had not enough insight and courage to curb the problem because of short-term electoral considerations. Retirees turn up heavily to polls, populism consists in flattering aged voters, so, the question was endlessly postponed until the resulting loss of competitivity in the straitjacket of the Euro and speculation on the financial markets unveiled the issue. Now, it is too late for these countries to stop the crisis without very painful reforms, that will result in mass poverty for the youth, who consider emigrating (ie. Greece). I suggest to name this issue, "the Feast of Cronos". Now just mind, ageing population is the prospect for the entire planet in the 21st century. Southern European economies might just be forerunners...

    Jean-Marc Zaninetti
    University of Orleans, France