Europe’s ageing population is an inconvenient truth for those who advocate social liberalism. Indeed, the liberalist path that the EU has trodden for many years now has led it to the brink of societal catastrophe.
With a current fertility rate of 1.6 (average) in the EU27, dark clouds hover ominously over its economic future. The redefinition of marriage, the development of so-called reproductive ‘healthcare’ and the tendency of women to put off bearing children until later have all contributed to the plummeting of the West’s fertility rates.
In 2013 Italy and Poland both saw the number of weddings drop to the lowest levels since World War II. The decline in marriage rates around Europe cannot be accounted for by purely economic explanations. Education and culture really do matter.
The future Europe faces is of its own making and reality must be confronted. An important measure of economic wellbeing is the dependency ratio – that between those who work and those who do not. As Europeans tend to work between the ages of 20 and 61 those outside this age range are usually economically dependent upon them.
Any increase in the dependency ratio triggers tax increases. With fewer people to support the elderly and the young the government often steps in to lessen the burden, but can only do so with funds taken from taxpayers.
Such a frigid economic climate is likely to drive many of the mobile to more hospitable lands of lower tax-rates like America, Australia or Canada. With a high dependency ratio pushing workers abroad, the population problem is exacerbated. An older Europe is headed for hardship, with later retirement and lower quality of life.
Given the scale of the problem, the silence from the mainstream media and politicians is odd, to put it but mildly. Every second counts if we are to invert the population pyramid and there are obvious ways of going about it. Offering child support and benefits to those with families would encourage low-income households to have children. Though there have been some attempts to help women balance careers and childbearing, a straightforward offering of childcare to mothers at work fails to get to grips with the role of parents in family life.
Financial aid is important, but children are human beings and not economic units – still less mere accessories to an already perfect life – and must be treated as such. Society must become more ‘family friendly’ where, for starters, people can spend less time at work and more time with their families. If Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France, warned that, ‘Society is… a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are to be born,’ he was assuming that people lived for more than themselves. If things continue going the way they have been, there will not be any of ‘those who are to be born’ to think of. Inverting the pyramid should create a healthier economic future, and it might just create a rather happier one too.