Can Europe Survive Its Population Plunge?


Europe is dying. The Washington Post, among others, reports that, within a hundred years, there will be the rare German in Germany or Italian in Italy. Some demographers believe it is too late to correct Europe’s plunge into extinction. “The fall in the population can no longer be stopped,” reported Walter Rademacher of the German Federal Statistics Office.

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Replacement fertility rates are 2.1 children per woman in developed nations. No nation in Europe can claim that rate, and most fall under 1.6. At those levels, each generation is barely half the number of the preceding one. The working-age population is reduced by 30 percent in just 20 years, having a devastating impact on economies. Today, European Union and United Nations experts are sufficiently alarmed to call councils to address the population crisis. The irony is that this is a crisis of their making.

In the 1960s, futurists painted a dire picture of population explosion and its concomitant depletion of resources. As recently as ten years ago, the UN’s own Millennium Summit Declaration insisted, “We must spare no effort to free all of humanity, and above all our children and grandchildren from the threat of living on a planet irredeemably spoilt by human activities, and whose resources would no longer be sufficient for their needs” (22).

Global policy planners set about crafting a means to curb world fertility. Contraception and abortion as social policy necessarily pitted planners against Christian teaching and traditional families. Predictably, these policies led to tacit devaluation of marriage and the acceptance of divorce, cohabitation, and single parenthood in the developed nations. Worse, a militant secularization of Western culture deprived two generations of the foundational reasons for family formation. Sociological tinkering as part of the Human Potential Movement sought to detach people from “religious superstitions” and apply scientific methods to the management of human beings. Their mistake was a crucial misunderstanding of the nature of family: Is there an inherent, ontological basis for families, or can the nature of a “family” be recast at the whim of international governing bodies?


In March, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) released the “Policy Brief on Ageing #5,” which stated, “Populations in the UNECE region are ageing rapidly. To maintain economic growth and standard of living, people would need to work longer before they can retire.” Left unsaid is the root cause: “Because we have aborted or contracepted a large percentage of our future generation, the current aging generation can expect less support in old age from the children they did not have who cannot now contribute to the GDP, thereby threatening our standard of living.”

Yet another effort to address the European crisis is the cheery sounding formal paper “The Happiness Commonality: Fertility decisions in a low fertility setting.” The paper gushes with false hope and a bald assertion that children are a valuable consumer commodity:

The main idea of this article is that the quest for happiness, and the compatibility between happiness and childbearing, is the “commonality” that may bring an understanding of fertility differences in contemporary advanced societies in Europe and North America. . . . In this framework, the decision to marry, to divorce or to have a (nother) child is taken when we expect to be in a better position (in other words, happier) when comparing the status after this decision (to have a child) has been taken with the current status. If children are considered as “consumption goods”, we have children because we derive utility from having them.

Despite semi-hysterical attempts to reassure the remaining European population that having children could lead to greater happiness, there are very powerful social and political forces that cannot be turned around quickly enough.


First is the addiction to the oft-stated “standard of living.” Child credits or family-friendly economic policies are insufficient — around 4 percent of GDP in the best case, Denmark. Tax or direct credits are less in other nations, and in any case the incentives have not proven effective: It has become a strong cultural norm to have fewer children, and monetary assistance is simply not enticing. Italy’s “Bambini bonus” did not result in a measureable uptick in birth rates. Simply stated, even where the nation is willing to make the social and economic investment in the next generation, its individual citizens often are not. Why is this?

population2_articleEconomic analysis reveals that a disproportionate percentage of the retired population leans on its ever-fewer young citizens. Their tax burden is too great (spread over too few taxpayers), couples end up postponing or foregoing children altogether, and the depopulation spiral gains speed.  Further analysis shows that a woman who interrupts her productive working years for an aggregate of ten years in order to raise a family loses 20 percent to 25 percent of her lifetime earnings. Government birth credit policies are no match for this monetary and professional loss.

Additionally, quality commercial care for young children can cost 10,000 Euros per year. Southern Europeans are faced with the choice to sacrifice children to career or career to children. (In the Nordic nations, government subsidy is far higher and is partially borne through a compulsory daycare attendance from 13 months.)

Studies show that American men are more likely to assist their wives with domestic tasks; European men, meanwhile, especially in Mediterranean countries, are less likely to tackle child care and domestic chores. For dual-income couples in Europe, one predictor of a second birth is the degree to which the father has assisted with the first child. Added responsibilities, such as care for elderly parents, means a second child is a rarity.

Conversely, for Europe’s intentionally childless couples, freed of child-care obligations, the standard of living can be quite high. And, as they age, they will draw on the productivity of younger citizens, though they produced none themselves — a free ride of sorts.

In the final calculation, couples, especially women, feel no obligation to contribute to the nation’s demographic health. Her free choice and personal fulfillment are devoid of concern that her nation’s future is in peril because, quite simply, she will not be around to endure the consequences.  An egotistic, nihilistic message underpins this lifestyle: “This is all there is. Get what you can, because soon it will be over.” Commitment beyond my immediate need is of no consequence to me. Even the very concept of national community is reduced to an exchange between citizens and their state where tax revenue is pooled; and education, health care, and infrastructure maintenance are consumed by citizens in the pool.


As secularization systematically erases all reference to cultural tradition, religion, and transcendence, it removes the anchoring identity of the people. What does “nation” mean to postmodern men raised in a history-erasing state school? High-worth citizens (educated and possessing specialized skill sets) may shop for the “nation” that offers the best exchange of services for joining its tax pool.

Secularized elite Westerners who imagine they will have the luxury to exchange skills for a life lived within the political arrangement of their choice have gravely miscalculated. The United Nations Security Council’s permanent seats are on course to be dominated by Muslim-controlled nations. The European seats of Britain and France, as well as Russia’s seat, are already compromised: As their percentage of immigrant Muslim citizens rise, they dare not risk a Security Council vote against another Muslim state, lest their own citizens riot. If Islam ascendant inherits the reins of the EU, toleration of postmodern lifestyles will not be its distinguishing feature.

In Habermaus’s term, “post-metaphysical” secular Europe intentionally and legally eliminated Christianity as a recognized foundation of European culture — all in the name of freedom. When the European Union drew up its new constitution, Pope John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger futilely urged leaders to acknowledge the Christian contribution to the making of Europe (see “The Dark Side of the European Union,” from the June 2003 issue of crisis). The Christian worldview is the genesis of the very idea of human rights, yet this foundation was casually swept aside. Many reasoned voices echoed Hillaire Belloc, warning that a people without the intimate knowledge of their common origins cannot perdure as a cohesive society.

Secularists realize, but do not publicly admit, that that loss of Christian moral foundations has plunged Europe into a depopulating death spiral. What secular moderns omitted from their war-gaming gambit for population control was that the huge physical and spiritual vacuum of a post-Christian, depopulated Europe would leave them prostrate before an intolerant Islam. In the halls of international institutions where “global governance” has been methodically planned for more than 50 years, the assumption has been that those who lived to see this dream come true would be other “post-metaphysical” elite. Instead, the global system they planned may be delivered by population default to the nations of Islam, China, and India.


  • Mary Jo Anderson

    Mary Jo Anderson is a Catholic journalist and public speaker. She is a board member of Women for Faith and Family and has served on the Legatus Board of Directors. With co-author Robin Bernhoft, she wrote Male and Female He Made Them: Questions and Answers about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions (Catholic Answers Press, 2005).

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