Why is the population of Europe set to shrink?

Claudia Delpero, Europe Street
Claudia Delpero, Europe Street - [email protected]
Why is the population of Europe set to shrink?
The EU population already dropped in 2020 and 2021 due to 1.2 million additional deaths associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. 2022 saw a recovery, also due to the arrival of almost 4 million refugees from Ukraine. Photo: Pixabay.

The population of Europe has been steadily increasing in recent years but it is soon set to peak and then go into decline. We explain why and also the countries in Europe where you are most likely to live to a hundred years old.


“Italy is disappearing!” tweeted businessman Elon Musk at the news that the country’s birthrate is at an all-time low while mortality remains high.

On 1 January 2023, Italy’s population was 58.85 million, 179,000 smaller than the previous year despite a 20,000 increase in foreign-born residents. In 2022, the country recorded less than 7 newborns and more than 12 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants.

READ ALSO: How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The number of 100-year-olds however reached almost 22,000, an increase of over 2,000 on 2021 and the highest level ever, according to the national statistical office Istat.

A shrinking and aging population is not only an Italian trend. Residents in the European Union are projected to drop by 27.3 million, or 6 percent, by 2100 compared to 2022, the latest data by the EU statistical office Eurostat shows.

The EU’s population, 451 million on 1 January 2023, has been steadily growing in the past decades due to an increase in life expectancy and positive net migration (more people moving to the EU than leaving).

This is expected to continue, although at a slower pace, until 2029, when it will start to decline. In some EU countries the decline will happen earlier, while in others it will not be seen until later.

This is the situation for the countries covered by The Local.


Short-term population increase

The EU population already dropped in 2020 and 2021 due to 1.2 million additional deaths associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. 2022 saw a recovery, also due to the arrival of almost 4 million refugees from Ukraine.

Based on assumptions related to fertility, mortality and migration trends, Eurostat projects the EU population to peak at some 453 million people in 2025, then slowly decline to reach 420 million in 2100.

In Italy, the population has already started to decline and is expected to drop from 59 million in 2022 to 50.1 million in 2100 (-15 percent). For Spain the drop will be from 47.4 to 45.1 million (-5 percent) after a peak of 50.5 million in 2045.


The largest declines are however projected for Latvia (-38 percent), Lithuania (-37 percent) and Greece (-31 percent).

On the other hand, Luxembourg, Malta, Sweden, Ireland, Cyprus, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Netherlands and Germany will see their population increasing by 2100.

The number of inhabitants is projected to rise from 10.4 to 13.2 million (+27 percent) for Sweden and from 8.9 to 9.5 million (+6 percent) for Austria. The population in Denmark is expected to increase from 5.8 to 6.1 million (+4 percent) but would be on the decline from 2075. Germany will also experience population growth, from 83.2 in 2022 to 84.1 million (+1 percent) in 2100, after a peak of 85.2 million in 2030.


For France the population will remain around 68 million after reaching 70.7 million around 2045.

The population of Norway and Switzerland, which are not in the EU, will also see a major increase, from 5.4 to 6.7 million (+24 percent) and from 8.7 to 10.1 million (+15 percent) respectively in 2100 over 2022.

These projections “have a long time horizon, which means that the further we move away from the first observed year (2022), the more their accuracy decreases,” a spokesperson for the European Commission told The Local.

“In principle, fertility and migration are the major determinants of population change. The data points to the continuous decline in total fertility rate for almost all EU countries over the last decades and to the high volatility of migration, particularly due to the situation in Syrian and in Ukraine,” he added.

For Italy and Spain, “the decline should be seen as an outcome of overall fertility, mortality and migration trends. The continuously decreasing fertility rate in the past and the high volatility of migration for the two countries plays a key role in the projected results,” the spokesperson continued.

“For the countries with projected increases in population, the explanation is again in the combined impact of fertility, mortality and migration trends. The result for Germany, which has a high migration influx, is particularly driven by the assumption of increased fertility,” he said.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

Fewer young people, more elderly

At the same time, the proportion of children and young people (aged 0 to 19) in the overall population is projected to drop from 20 percent in 2022 to 18 percent by the end of the century. This projection concerns all countries covered by The Local, except for Germany, where the proportion of young people should increase from 18.6 per cent in 2022 to 19.5 per cent in 2100.

The share of people in working age (20-64 years) is also expected to decline, from 59 percent in 2022 to 50 percent in 2100, with all our countries affected.

On the other hand, the proportion of people aged 65 or more is projected to increase. In particular, the share of those aged 80 or more is foreseen to more than double, from 6 percent to 15 percent of the overall population. In Italy and Spain, this will reach 16 percent, while in the other countries covered by The Local the proportion will be around 13-14 percent.


Booming 100-year-olds

The most striking trend, however, is about people projected to become 100 years or older by 2100. Their overall number is expected to increase more than 14-fold, from 126,056 in 2022 to 1.8 million in 2100. Of these, more than 1.3 million will be women.

In Denmark the number of centenarians is expected to increase from 1,220 in 2022 to 24,004 in 2100; in Germany from 23,513 to 318,927; in Spain from 14,288 to 244,341; in France from 29,209 to 313,489; in Italy from 19,714 to 242,073; in Austria from 1,677 to 33,550; in Sweden from 2,662 to 43,840; in Norway from 1,309 to 25,786 and in Switzerland from 1,888 to 40,132.

But to live in a country with a statistically higher chance of becoming 100, it might be good to move to Iceland, which will see a 54-fold increase in centenarians, from 44 in 2022 to 2,389 in 2100, or Romania, with a 50-fold increase, from 1,294 to 64,496.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News.



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