The Public Interest

The French Population Debate

Richard Tomlinson

Summer 1984

IT has generally come to be recognized that Western Europe faces serious, if not intractable, economic difficulties. What Western European leaders have been slower to appreciate is that underlying their economic problem is an equally grave demographic crisis. In order to maintain population size at a constant level, without resorting to immigration, the birth rate needs to be 2.1 per woman. Among Western European countries only Spain (2.1), Portugal (2.1), Greece (2.3), and Ireland (3.2) attained or exceeded this figure in 1982.1 The lowest birth rate was registered by West Germany, with 1.4 per woman (in Munich the rate fell to 1.2). Demographers predict that if the German birth rate remains at its current level, within fifty years total population will decline from 61.7 to 39.4 million. In the same period, the number of Germans over age 65 will increase to 23 percent of the population, while only 13 percent will be below age 15. Though the German case is especially severe, this demographic trend exists throughout Western Europe. Between 1960 and 1980 the size of the European Economic Community (EEC) population relative to the total world population fell from 7.8 percent to 5.9 percent; by the year 2000 the population is expected to fall to 4.9 percent.

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