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3 Apr, 2011

Elderly, Immigrants Vital to Europe’s Future, 2010 Demography Report Shows

Europe’s population is getting older, fertility has begun to rise again, life expectancy is up and the EU continues to attract more immigrants. These demographic changes will have a significant impact on the way the travel & tourism industry markets itself in Europe as well as the way it develops its products and services to cater to European clientele.


Editor’s Note: This report is a compilation of data presented in three media releases issued by the European Commission on 1 April. The original releases can be found here, here and here. As a service to Travel Impact Newswire readers, they have been re-compiled and edited for clarity, structure and readability.

The European Union, with a population of half a billion, is facing important demographic changes. The population is getting older, fertility has begun to increase again, life expectancy keeps growing and the EU continues to attract a large number of immigrants. These changes will have a significant impact on the way the travel & tourism industry markets itself in Europe as well as the way it develops its products and services to cater to European clientele.

These latest trends come from the third Demography Report published jointly by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union and the Directorate General Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of the European Commission. Europe is already in the midst of a heavy-duty discussion on demographic challenges. Key issues are historical and recent trends in fertility, life expectancy and migration, the three drivers of population change. The report also includes data on the increasing number of EU citizens who look across national borders for study, work and life experiences.

The Demography Report is published every two years and this year has a special focus on mobility and migration. Presenting it at the informal Ministerial meeting on demography and family policy in Budapest, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, László Andor said: “Life expectancy is increasing while Europe’s workforce is shrinking and, in some Member States, this is happening very fast. We have to adapt our policies to promote a better work/life balance so parents can have children while continuing to work, and we must design policies to encourage Europeans to remain active longer”.

He added: “The EU’s Europe 2020 strategy provides the framework for efforts to increase employment and reduce poverty but to tackle the demographic challenge we also need to anchor our priorities in areas like health, migration and regional policies”.

According to the report, the EU will need the ability to face up to the major demographic transformations of this coming decade. It says Europe’s “future depends to a great extent on its capacity to tap the strong potential of the two fastest growing segments in its population: older people and immigrants.” Three policy areas appear crucial to boost economic growth and achieve greater social cohesion:

– The promotion of active ageing: older people, and in particular ageing baby-boomers, can look forward to many more years of healthy life, and they possess valuable skills and experience. More opportunities for active ageing will allow them to continue to contribute to society, even after retirement.

– The integration of migrants and their descendants: this is crucial for Europe because migrants will make up an even larger share of Europe’s labour force. The low employment rate of migrants is both socially and financially unaffordable.

– The reconciliation of paid work and family commitments: people with caring responsibilities still lack adequate support and suitable arrangements for combining their different responsibilities. As a result, economic growth is hampered because too many people are not able to exploit their high level of skills and education on the labour market. Women are particularly affected because of the persistent gender–employment and pay gaps.

Says the report, “At the same time, Europe needs to find ways of maintaining greater productivity while preparing for increasing levels of ageing-related expenditure, despite the demise of public finances as a result of the recession.”

Key Data and Trends:


Fertility is one main driver in population change. Low fertility rates contribute to population ageing and the current levels of fertility in the EU means that European population will start decreasing in 2050-2060. The population in some Member States is already decreasing due to low fertility rates in the past.

The report shows that the fertility continues to rise slowly and in 2009, five million babies were born in the EU-27. After falling sharply between 1980 and the early 2000s, the fertility rate in the EU27 started to increase again in 2003, when it stood at 1.47 children per woman, to reach a level of 1.60 in 2008.  However, for a population to be self-sustaining, 2.1 children per woman is required. The modest increase in fertility results from somewhat unusual family building patterns: countries with fewer marriages, more cohabitation, more divorces and an older average age of women at childbirth tend to have higher fertility.

The fertility rate rose in all Member States, except Luxembourg, Malta and Portugal. The largest increases over this period were observed in Bulgaria (from 1.23 children per woman in 2003 to 1.57 in 2009), Slovenia (from 1.20 to 1.53), the Czech Republic (from 1.18 to 1.49) and Lithuania (from 1.26 to 1.55).

In 2009, the Member States with the highest fertility rates were Ireland (2.07), France (2.00), the United Kingdom (1.96 in 2008) and Sweden (1.94), all approaching the replacement level of 2.1. The lowest rates were observed in Latvia (1.31), Hungary and Portugal (both 1.32) and Germany (1.36).

The report points to modern family policies that allow young couples to have the number children they wish to bear and thus help raise the number of births as a good way to improve employment, in particular through better reconciliation between paid work and family commitments.


Increased life expectancy is the main driver behind the population ageing. On the one hand, it is a symptom of increased prosperity and it carries opportunities for living longer healthy and active lives; even as the population becomes older, the average remaining life span is actually increasing. On the other hand, it will require changes in European habits, regulations and policies to ensure that the same prosperity that has led to increased life-spans will not be undermined by these unsustainable increases in dependency.

Over the last 50 years, life expectancy at birth in the EU27 has increased by around 10 years for both women and men. The life expectancy at birth rose in all Member States, with the largest increases for both women and men recorded in Estonia and Slovenia. In 2008 life expectancy for the EU-27 was 76.4 for men and 82.4 for women. Differences among Member States are still very significant, ranging from almost 13 years for men to 8 for women.  In 2009, the highest life expectancies at birth for women were observed in France (85.1), Spain (84.9), Italy (84.5 in 2008) and Cyprus (83.6), and for men in Sweden (79.4), Italy (79.1 in 2008), Spain and the Netherlands (both 78.7).

Having reached the age of 65, women in the EU27 could expect to live an additional 20.7 years and men an additional 17.2 years. As for life expectancy at birth, life expectancy at age 65 has also increased in all Member States between 1993 and 2009, with the largest increases for both women and men in Ireland.


High birth rates after World War II led to what is often referred to as the baby-boom which lasted into the 1960s. The Demography Report emphasises that these baby-boomers are now reaching their sixties and are beginning to retire from the labour market. This marks a turning point in the demographic development of the European Union. Ageing is no longer something that will happen at some point in the distant future; it is starting now. As of 2010, the oldest populations are in Germany and Italy, with median ages of respectively 44.2 and 43.1; the youngest by far in Ireland, with 34.3.

Indeed rise of the oldest-old is the most visible development in the population. The number of over 60s in the EU is growing by 2m each year. The share of those aged 80 and above is rising fast. It is around 4% now, but will rise to 12% in 2060. The growing share of the over-80 will put strain the provision of services for the elderly, mainly health and long-term care. The share will be highest in Italy and lowest in Luxembourg and the United Kingdom.

Longer healthy lives are a pre-requisite for active ageing. Moreover, in a context of rising life expectancies, a rise in healthy life expectancy will helps curb the rise in health costs associated with ageing. Hence, the focus now is to seek an improvement in healthy life expectancy, by delaying the stage at which physical conditions start to deteriorate rapidly. Some data points to healthy life expectancy rising faster than life expectancy, opening up more opportunities for active participation in society at older ages. Other statistics, however, point to stagnating or even receding healthy life expectancy.

In order to help ensure that quality of life for older people, and not only length of life, is enhanced and in order to help meet economic challenges presented by caring for ageing populations, the Commission recently launched a pilot European Innovation Partnership aiming to add two healthy life years for the average European by 2020.

Also as part of the Innovation Union initiative, the Commission is funding a number of research projects aiming to understand the impact of population ageing on European societies and thus to help policy makers make decisions on health, social and economic policy. The Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), which has received €30 million in EU funding, recently became the first European research infrastructure to benefit from a new EU legal status giving it many of the administrative advantages and tax exemptions enjoyed by major international organisations, with much simpler procedures.


In recent years, immigration has been the main driver behind population growth in most Member States: between 2004 and 2008, 3 to 4 million immigrants settled in the EU27 each year. In 2010, a breakdown of the population by citizenship showed that there were 32.4 million foreigners living in an EU27 Member State (6.5% of the total population), of those, 12.3 million were EU27 nationals living in another Member State and 20.1 million were citizens from a non-EU27 country.

In 2010, the largest numbers of foreign citizens were recorded in Germany (7.1 million), Spain (5.7 million), the United Kingdom (4.4 million), Italy (4.2 million) and France (3.8 million). Almost 80% of the foreign citizens in the EU27 lived in these five Member States.

Among the EU27 Member States, the highest percentage of foreign citizens in the population was observed in Luxembourg (43% of the total population), followed by Latvia (17%), Estonia and Cyprus (both 16%), Spain (12%) and Austria (11%).

During the economic crisis, although net immigration to the EU was halved, the total number of foreigners within EU-27 borders continued to rise, with few exceptions. New Eurostat data on residence permits throws light on the reasons for migration from non-EU countries. The available data show that the decline in migration is largely due to a reduction in migration for employment and family reasons, while the number of residence permits issued for education and other reasons increased slightly from 2008 to 2009.

From 2007 and 2009, immigrant flows have gone down in Ireland, Spain and Italy, and remained stable in Germany and the UK. They increased in Belgium and Sweden. Fewer people overall migrated from non-EU countries, especially on work and family-related permits; Education permits are up slightly.


A study on the impact of migration since 1960 has shown that the migration has had an important influence on the size and composition of the European population. The populations in France and Germany would be over 10 million smaller each if there had been no migration; conversely, Portugal’s would have been over 2 million larger.

The integration of immigrants across generations occurs rather rapidly. In most countries with a substantial proportion of second-generation immigrants, these perform in education and on the labour market much better than first-generation immigrants and almost as well as those of no foreign descent; this applies to descendants of citizens from other Member States and of immigrants from non-EU countries. Nevertheless, even after three generations – the time it takes usually for full integration – descendants of migrants maintain some attachment to the countries of their ancestors, through their knowledge of foreign languages for example.

The main challenge will be to further improve the conditions for their integration, to allow them to fulfill their ambitions and to give them the opportunity to contribute fully to their host societies. If we manage to raise their education and employment levels, migrants and their descendents will be able to mitigate the effects of the future decline in our working-age population.

In France, among those born outside the EU, 43% of the women and 36% of the men aged 25-49 have a low level of education (ISCED 0-2, or lower secondary at most); among those born in the EU but from 2 parents born outside the EU, the share goes down to 25 and 29%; with only one parent born in the EU, to 21 and 18% and this is the same level as those who are not second generation migrants. In Belgium, this convergence at the second generation is much slower and children of migrants retain difficulties. Similar outcomes apply to the labour market.

Large-scale migration and mixing of cultures are clearly not new phenomena in the history of the EU. Past flows have had a different impact on the size and structure of the population in most EU-27 Member States, and they have contributed to a more European outlook among its citizens. Immigrants often want to maintain a close attachment to their country of origin, but these linkages tend to weaken over time.


Alongside traditional migration and mobility, new forms of mobility are taking place. People are moving abroad, mainly to other Member States, for shorter periods to seek work, pursue their education or other life opportunities. Increasingly, this form of mobility is based on personal preferences and life choices, and not only on economic opportunities. They are no longer only ‘pushed’ by difficult conditions at home, very often they now feel rather ‘pulled’ by opportunities abroad.

Among these Europeans on the move young adults, well-educated and at the higher-end of the occupational scale are the most prevalent. As they move abroad and return home, they create connections and disseminate knowledge and experiences. Most of this mobility is short-term and has little negative impact on any populations. This type of mobility was intended by the EU when it created its policies of free movement within its borders. The survey shows that one in five of the EU-27 respondents has either worked, or studied in another country, lived with a partner form another country or owns property abroad. One in ten of the respondents plan to move to another Member State in the next ten years.

The increased propensity to be mobile across borders could be of great benefit to the EU by enabling a better matching of skills and language ability with job opportunities. The results of a Eurobarometer survey point to the presence of a diverse, growing number of mobile young people characterised by a common interest in looking beyond national borders. Increased short-term and circular mobility across Member States allows for a more efficient economy and more opportunities for mobile citizens while not depriving the Member States of origin of crucial manpower; as such, it does not contribute to a brain-drain. Moreover, it fosters a closer Union via an exchange of experiences.


Families are also undergoing dramatic changes. The number of marriages is decreasing while the number of divorces and births outside marriage is on the rise. There are now about four divorces per every ten marriages and more than one-third newborns are born outside a marriage. There is a great disparity among Member States as to the age at which young adults leave their parents home and start to live independently or begin their own families. The lack of job security and/or the perspective of unemployment can act as a deterrent here and delay family formation.

The largest differences among Member States are found in family formation. In Romania and Lithuania there are over 6 marriages per year per 1000 inhabitants. In Slovenia, just above 3. In Belgium, there are 3 divorces per 1000 inhabitants every year; in Ireland and Italy, less than 1. In Estonia, almost 60% of the children are born outside marriage (single women or non-married couples; in Greece, only 7%).


* The Demography Report 2010 is available free of charge in pdf format by clicking here. The European Union Press Office cautions that data presented in its News Release could differ from the data published in the report, due to updates made after the data extractions used for the publication.

* The fertility rate is the mean number of children that would be born alive to a woman during her lifetime if she were to pass through her childbearing years conforming to the age-specific fertility rates of a given year.

* The replacement level is a fertility rate of 2.1, which is the average number of children per woman needed to keep the population size constant in the absence of migration flows.

* In the case of Latvia and Estonia, the proportion of non-EU foreign citizens is particularly large due to the high number of ‘recognised non-citizens’, mainly former Soviet Union citizens, who are permanently resident in these countries but have not acquired Latvian/Estonian citizenship or any other citizenship.