Why is the population of Europe set to shrink?

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.

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.

“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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The Syrian refugee who became mayor of a German village

Ryyan Alshebl fled war-torn Syria in 2015, arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos after a harrowing four-hour journey on a rubber boat.

The Syrian refugee who became mayor of a German village

Eight years on, he is the mayor of a German village.

“It was dark and cold and there was not a single light to be seen on Lesbos,” he recalls.

“A few hours ago we had been in a normal Mediterranean town in Turkey. The environment had transformed with the cold and dark, and of course the feelings of fear that go with such a journey.”

Alshebl, then barely 21, was among a huge wave of refugees who arrived in Europe that year.

After landing in Greece, he made his way through Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia by public transport and on foot, taking 12 days in total to reach Germany.

A child walks past tents inside the new refugee camp of Kara Tepe in Mytilene, on Lesbos, on March 29, 2021. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP)

He eventually ended up at a refugee centre at Althengstett, a rural region near the Black Forest.

“In the shared accommodation, where you cannot expect more than a bed, a roof and some food, for which you are still thankful, you can only do one thing: get back on your feet quickly and invest rapidly in your own future,” he said.

Alshebl soon learned to speak German fluently — “if you are in the countryside you have no other choice” — and landed a traineeship as an administrative assistant at Althengstett town hall.

He earned German citizenship in 2022, a prerequisite for anyone who wants to stand in local elections in Germany.

READ ALSO: How well have refugees integrated in Germany since 2015?

‘Taking responsibility’

Now 29, he will take up his post as mayor of Ostelsheim, a village near Althengstett, in June.

He is believed to be the first Syrian from the wave of refugees who arrived in Germany in 2015-16 to be elected to a political post.

Alshebl was joined by four friends on his journey to Europe. But he left behind his parents and one brother, though a second brother had already moved to Germany on a student visa.

He said his experience of fleeing Syria and having “to take responsibility not only for (myself) but also for the environment” had given him the drive to go into politics.

“To take on this responsibility at such an age, you learn a lot. Of course, it creates a new person, a new personality,” he said.

Alshebl ran as an independent candidate in the election, winning 55.41 percent of the vote.

But he is also a member of the Greens, “because climate protection is very important” to him.

His victory is all the more striking given that Ostelsheim, a village of 2,700 people, is a traditionally conservative community.

A refugees welcome sign in Germany. Photo: PATRICK SEEGER / DPA / AFP

A refugees welcome sign in Germany. Photo: PATRICK SEEGER / DPA / AFP

Situated among a cluster of hills, the village is surrounded by rolling fields lined with dry stone walls and hedges.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party harnessed anger over the influx of asylum seekers in 2015-16 to win votes and ultimately enter parliament for the first time nationally.

READ ALSO: Why tensions are brewing in eastern Germany over refugee arrivals

But Alshebl says he has not seen right-wing extremism personally.

Alshebl believes he was elected because he listened to the people’s
concerns — from childcare to digitalisation issues.

He admits to not really “feeling anything” on hearing he had won the election in March as he was “overwhelmed”. But as congratulations poured in from around the world, it became clear that his story was “bigger than a mayoral election in a small community”.

Alshebl believes the fact he triumphed against two other local candidates who grew up in the area says a lot about the mentality of the voters.

The countryside of Baden-Württemberg, where Ostelsheim is located. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Warnack

“It is a sign that people did not count the origin, but the qualifications. It is a sign of openness to the world,” he said.

Alshebl’s parents, a schoolteacher and an agricultural engineer, belong to Syria’s Druze minority, but he describes himself as not religious.

He has “mixed feelings” about Syria, which he has not been able to visit since living in Germany.

“It is the country where you were born and raised… You long for the people you grew up with,” he said. “But I am happy that I got this chance to live here at all” when others have not, he said.