Germany: 55.34m in 2005; will be 44.66m in 2050
France: 39.46m; will be 36.07m
Italy: 38.35m; will be 26.14m
UK: 39.44m; will be 40.56m
Bulgaria and Romania: 21m; will be 13m.
Comment: the worst affected are the central European countries which have recently joined the EU (the EU of 15 members is projected to shrink by 15%; the EU of 27 members is projected to shrink by 19%), and the Mediterranean, Catholic countries, Italy and Spain.
Can immigration reverse the trend? No: the social dislocation consequent on moving 64m people into the EU over this timescale, to maintain the working age population, is unimaginable. As soon as they arrive, the immigrants will in any case be placed under the same social and economic pressures as the existing population, and their fertility will decline.
Will there be a pensions crisis? Yes, but not permanently. The problem derives from the imbalance between the working population and the non-working population, and this can be corrected by raising retirement ages. European politicians will find the courage to do this when things get really bad.
Why is northern Europe less affected than Southern and Central Europe? Since women have been going out to work and maintaining careers, they have naturally found it harder to make time to have children. In Southern and Central Europe women are expected to look after their small children, so having a family at all means many years out of paid employment. In Northern Europe, great efforts have been made to enable mothers to carry on working: subsidised child-care, maternity leave etc..
Should Southern and Central Europe follow the Northern model? No: it is very bad for small children to spend a lot of time in creches.
Do women prefer having careers to being mothers? Not according to opinion polls. Large majorities of working women in the UK claim to want to leave full-time work; the average number of children women claim to want is much greater than the number they actually have.
Are fertility rates driven down by poverty? No. Fertility rates have fallen in the context of unprecedented prosperity in Europe; they tend to be much higher in poor countries. Historically, the trend to smaller families started with the richer parts of society, and has spread down; it did not start with the poorest, and spread up. High house prices certainly make life difficult for single-income families in the UK, but they don't explain the Europe-wide problem.
What on earth is going on? Although women say they want more children, they are not prepared to sacrifice their jobs to have them. This is a matter of social attitudes, reinforced by government policy. Women are told that they are not making a contribution to society by having children instead of a career; career achievements are regarded as admirable, but family ones are ignored; families are respected for their outward signs of prosperity, not their children; despite years of concern about fertility rates, large families experience criticism, ridicule and discrimination.
What can we do? We can press for changes to Government policy: an end to the discrimination against marriage in the tax and benefit system; a recognition of the value of bringing children into the world; a recognition of the role of parents as the primary educators of their children; please support the group 'Full Time Mothers' who work in this area. We must counter the negative social attitudes in every way we can, and support families. The fundamental problem is one of values, and can only be countered by the reconversion of Europe. For this we need to use the proper supernatural means, and above all the Rosary, as Leo XIII recommended in the context of this very issue.
Leo XIII recognised three trends undermining society (Laetitiae Sanctae, 1893):
4. There are three influences which appear to Us to have the chief place in effecting this downward movement of society. These are, first, a distaste for the simple and laborious life; secondly, repugnance to suffering of any kind; thirdly, the forgetfulness of the future life.
He recommended the Rosary as a means of countering these trends: the Joyful Mysteries for the first, the Sorrowful for the second, and the Glorious for the third. What he writes on the first is worth quoting at length:
5. We deplore -- and those who judge of all things merely by the light and according to the standard of nature join with Us in deploring -- that society is threatened with a serious danger in the growing contempt of those homely duties and virtues which make up the beauty of humble life. To this cause we may trace in the home, the readiness of children to withdraw themselves from the natural obligation of obedience to the parents, and their impatience of any form of treatment which is not of the indulgent and effeminate kind. In the workman, it evinces itself in a tendency to desert his trade, to shrink from toil, to become discontented with his lot, to fix his gaze on things that are above him, and to look forward with unthinking hopefulness to some future equalization of property. We may observe the same temper permeating the masses in the eagerness to exchange the life of the rural districts for the excitements and pleasures of the town. Thus the equilibrium between the classes of the community is being destroyed, everything becomes unsettled, men's minds become a prey to jealousy and heart-burnings, rights are openly trampled under foot, and, finally, the people, betrayed in their expectations, attack public order, and place themselves in conflict with those who are charged to maintain it.
6. For evils such as these let us seek a remedy in the Rosary, which consists in a fixed order of prayer combined with devout meditation on the life of Christ and His Blessed Mother. Here, if the joyful mysteries be but clearly brought home to the minds of the people, an object lesson of the chief virtues is placed before their eyes. Each one will thus be able to see for himself how easy, how abundant, how sweetly attractive are the lessons to be found therein for the leading of an honest life. Let us take our stand in front of that earthly and divine home of holiness, the House of Nazareth. How much we have to learn from the daily life which was led within its walls! What an all-perfect model of domestic society! Here we behold simplicity and purity of conduct, perfect agreement and unbroken harmony, mutual respect and love -- not of the false and fleeting kind -- but that which finds both its life and its charm in devotedness of service. Here is the patient industry which provides what is required for food and raiment; which does so "in the sweat of the brow," which is contented with little, and which seeks rather to diminish the number of its wants than to multiply the sources of its wealth. Better than all, we find there that supreme peace of mind and gladness of soul which never fail to accompany the possession of a tranquil conscience. These are precious examples of goodness, of modesty, of humility, of hard-working endurance, of kindness to others, of diligence in the small duties of daily life, and of other virtues, and once they have made their influence felt they gradually take root in the soul, and in course of time fail not to bring about a happy change of mind and conduct. Then will each one begin to feel his work to be no longer lowly and irksome, but grateful and lightsome, and clothed with a certain joyousness by his sense of duty in discharging it conscientiously. Then will gentler manners everywhere prevail; home-life will be loved and esteemed, and the relations of man with man will be hallowed by a larger infusion of respect and charity. And if this betterment should go forth from the individual to the family and to the communities, and thence to the people at large so that human life should be lifted up to this standard, no one will fail to feel how great and lasting indeed would be the gain which would be achieved for society.