One of my favorite writer’s on current affairs is Arthur Brooks from the American Enterprise Institute. His article in yesterday’s New York Times, “An Aging Europe in Decline” gives a good explanation for the current malaise in Europe. “The optimists see the region’s economy growing by just 1% in 2015: many fear that a triple-dip recession is in the offing. … Predictions of decade-long deflation, low productivity and high unemployment are becoming conventional wisdom.” But Mr. Brooks makes a strong case that Europe’s core problems are as much demographic as economic:
- In 2014, the average number of children per woman in the European Union was 1.6, well below the replacement rate of 2.1.
- The labor participation rate in the EU in 2013 was just 57.5%, much lower than the 62.7% in the U.S..
- In 2012 the median age of the national population in the EU was 41.9 while the average age of foreigners living in the EU was 34.7. But “anti-immigration sentiment is surging across the continent.”
In other words, Europe is “rejecting the culture of family, turning its back on work and closing itself off to strivers from the outside.” This is a powerful indictment of contemporary European culture.
To a certain extent these same trends are evident in the U.S. although to a somewhat lesser degree:
- Our own fertility rate (see the above chart) is down to 1.9 children per woman in 2012, and is dropping among all racial groups.
- Our labor participation rate is better than Europe’s but is our own lowest in 36 years.
- We admit over a million legal immigrants per year who lower the average age of our population. However we fail to accept many highly educated and skilled workers who would be able to give our economy a huge boost.
Demographics are a problem for the U.S. just as they are for Europe. The only way to counteract strong demographic trends is with smarter economic policies.