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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Monday, December 16, 2013

Greece's Dismal Demographics in Perspective

Thanks to Abu Daoud for pointing out a New York Times Op-Ed piece on Greek demographics that I had missed a few days ago. Since my son-in-law is Greek-American (a son of immigrants from Greece), I have a special interest in what's going on there--which, unfortunately, is generally nothing very positive at the moment. 
The Greeks are in a struggle for survival. And the odds are piling up against us. The fight is not only on the economic front, as we try to meet our commitments under an international 240-billion-euro bailout deal that has resulted in greatly reduced incomes, higher costs and taxes, and an overriding sense of insecurity. The danger is even more basic: Deaths are outnumbering births, people are leaving the country, and the population is aging so fast that in a few decades Greece may be unable to produce enough wealth to take care of its people and may cease to be a viable nation state.
“People tend to overlook the importance of the population, even though everything begins with it,” says Michalis Papadakis, professor emeritus of statistics and social security at the University of Piraeus, who has spent his life studying the issue. “Demographic reduction undermines defense capabilities, it cuts down the work force and obstructs business.”
The author appropriately notes that Greece is not unique demographically:
Many European Union countries face a similar demographic problem and the Union as a whole is aging fast. But whereas European Union and national officials are looking for ways to deal with an aging population, in Greece the battle for economic survival is so overwhelming that no one has time for the bigger picture. In the urge to cut spending and stop borrowing, the Greeks have not been able to do the things that might have encouraged people to have children.
This argument of Greek "exceptionalism" doesn't really square with the numbers, however. A quick glance at the 2013 Population Reference Bureau World Population Data Sheet (never leave home without it!) shows that Greece is exactly average for Southern European countries in terms of fertility, life expectancy, net migration, and the percentage of the population that is 65 and older. The general theory about low fertility (which is heart of the story) is that traditional sex roles at home are at war with modern ideas about the overall role of women in society and so, just as in East Asia, women defer marriage and childbearing and the birth rate goes down. If men helped more at home, and a higher fraction of people paid their taxes, society might take on a new look. 

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