Spain’s “Disastrous” Contraceptive Policies have Resulted in the Oldest European Population

A report by Spain’s Institute for Family Policy says that Spain, with one of the western world’s lowest birth rates and a high average life expectancy, is now the most rapidly aging country in the European Union.

The Institute’s head, Eduardo Hertfelder, told media that the government’s “dreadful” contraceptive policies are having a “catastrophic effect.”

The report says that the Spanish youth population has dropped from 10 million in 1981 to 6.6 million in 2008. The process of population aging follows Spain’s precipitous drop in birth rates. In 2000, a UN report found that the Spanish birth rate was the lowest in the world with 1.07 children per woman. Hertfelder stressed that the Spanish population is being bolstered now only by increases in immigration.

In Spain, the median age of women is 42.5 years; most physicians say that conception becomes increasingly less likely after age 35.

While the country’s fertility rate remains one of the lowest in the world at 1.31 children per woman, the socialist Spanish government announced earlier this year its plans to loosen the law to allow abortion on demand during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.

The loss of young people, aging of the population and impending impact of this demographic implosion on the economy, is not limited to Spain. A report published in April by the European Commission said that the working-age population of Europe will peak next year and begin to decline.

The EC report said that by 2060 Europe will have 2 people of working age for every person aged over 65, compared to 4 people of working age currently. Europe now has some of the world’s most generous government-sponsored pension and welfare plans that will be directly affected by the anticipated drop in population.

Referring to it as the “inverted pyramid” effect, demographers believe that a 1.3 fertility rate is all but impossible to correct and inevitably leads to a drop in population. With below-replacement fertility – that is, with two sets of parents producing only one child each generation – the number of children born is halved in each successive generation, resulting in dramatic decreases in the working-age population in twenty five years.

It has been widely noted that many of Europe’s predominantly Catholic nations seem to be particularly hard-hit by the demographic plunge. According to statistics available from the CIA World Fact Book, Portugal, with a Catholic population of 84.5 percent, has a birth rate of 1.49 children born per woman and a median female age of 41.6 years. Italy’s birth rate is 1.31 children per woman with a median female age of 44.8 years and the population is 90 percent Catholic. Poland’s birth rate stands at 1.28 children per woman and the median female age is 39.7 years.

Around the world, the industrialised nations are all conforming to this pattern to varying degrees, with only the US currently maintaining close to a replacement-level birth rate of 2.05 children born per woman. Outside Europe, at 1.8 children per woman Australia has one of the highest birth rates, with China (1.79), Canada (1.58), Japan (1.21), South Korea (1.21) lagging far behind.

In many cases, the trend of falling birth rates and aging populations is not a new phenomenon. In Japan, now with one of the world’s lowest birth rates, following its post-war baby boom the birth rate had fallen 50 percent by 1960.

In 2008, the UN Development Programme called the continued depopulation of Russia one of the country’s “most severe challenges” that had been ongoing for forty years. The report said, “Beginning from 1992, mortality in Russia has consistently exceeded fertility.”

With the median ages of women in these countries rising, continued promotion by many national governments of population control measures such as free abortion and contraceptives, demographers are increasingly warning that the prospect of population recovery is remote.

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  • Kathryn

    I posted this link to the article about how pro-lifers have been betrayed. It fits better with this article though.

    The article also notes that once solid Catholic countries have these awful fertility rates. The only thing I can think of is that Catholics have come to have a false sense of the best way to go about “being compassionate” to those in need of it. Social Security and welfare systems seem like a good idea, but ultimately, they appear not be be. Because the damage they cause comes on so gradually, we don’t notice until the problems then generate are huge.

  • GaryT

    People used to expect their own kids to help care for them in old age. With social security, you can expect other people’s kids to pay for your old age. The problem is that many people then decided not to have kids and surprise! – there aren’t any “other” people having those kids you need to pay for your elder care. Social security and contraception are a deadly combination for a society.

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    The scariest part is that logic behind GaryT’s comment remains true. The only people who will care for any of us in old age are those whom we have collectively brought in to the world to follow after us. This logic applies to social security systems, savings and investment systems, financial systems, employment systems, health care systems: in short, everything. If there are fewer and fewer children to grow up to work, then social security funding isn’t the only thing that comes up short. Work itself comes up short, which means that savings comes up short. Without savings, investment and lending systems come up short. This means that credit tightens up or (if governments press the print button on their money machines), inflation surges. If inflation surges, then whatever savings the elderly have set aside is quickly devalued. If credit tightens, then employment drops, and new infusions into social security, savings, and investment systems drop as well. If either of these occurs, then access to health care systems decreases, because a viable economy is necessary for health care systems to operate successfully, whether government or the private sector is the primary health care operator.

    One of the primary modern observations about economies is that the more trade among nations increases, the less likely any of these traumatic consequences is to come to fruition. This is true. If the U.S. government starts printing money, then inflation can be held at bay so long as markets exist to absorb that money. Such markets exist in places like Japan and China, where very high savings rates lead to surpluses in real capital that seek out investment vehicles. Treasury bonds are one of those investment vehicles. So are certificates of ownership in companies that trade in U.S. financial markets.

    But these phenomena are themselves dependent on continued growth in the economies and savings of the varied markets that participate. And there are only two factors that have ever contributed to real economic growth in all the varied history of the world: 1) Population growth; and 2) Productivity growth. We have reaped the benefits of massive productivity growth worldwide over the past several decades. It is possible that such growth can continue; perhaps it can continue indefinitely.

    But productivity growth is in symbiosis with population growth. If both grow, then economies can continue to surge. Metropolitan powers* (like the U.S.) can continue to borrow. Marginal powers** (like China) can continue to absorb debt. Private entities can continue to finance new ideas. But if one of these two factors gets out of kilter with the other, then the symbiosis can turn inward upon itself. Population shrinkage can shrink entire economies and can quickly overwhelm any growth in productivity that may also be occurring. If population shrinkage overwhelms productivity’s ability to grow an economy, then the economy shrinks. If productivity also begins to shrink, then the economic contraction can accelerate. If this happens simultaneously in several places at once, then entire economies can be shattered.

    At least part of the current economic debacle is due to shrinking populations. However, there are still lots of people in the world not yet integrated into formalized economic systems. If we manage to avoid a worldwide depression (still eminently possible), then it will be because larger numbers of marginalized peoples forge their entry into formal economies. You can see this happening particularly in the developing world where the poor begin (or intensify) their participation in what the modern world calls micro-enterprise. You and I know this by another, older term: cottage industry. As micro enterprises expand to exceed the basic subsistence needs of their owners, these owners begin to accrue savings. Even if this savings is minuscule on the individual level, when multiplied by a large population, these savings become increasingly significant. These savings will chase after potential debtors and investors in order to continue the accrual of dividends and interest. If (and it’s still a big if) things turn around this time, this will be driving force. (Indeed, The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article describing exactly this phenomenon in India. Wish I could remember the title. Oh well.)

    Big problems loom when population growth turns negative because this phenomenon of intensified economic activity can no longer occur when there are fewer and fewer people around to engage in it. This, ultimately, is what leads to the dry-up of social security and medical funding for the elderly. It is also what leads to world-wide depressions, hyper-inflations, and (if history serves rightly) war.

    God help us.

    * Here the term, metropolitan, simply refers to the central world power or powers whose decisions have the biggest world-wide impact. Rome was a metropolitan power in ancient times. So was Babylon before that. Mexico City was a metropolitan power during the colonial period, though a weak one compared to Rome or Babylon.

    ** The term, marginal, refers to a world power that is not a metropolitan power. In its own neighborhood, China can be considered a metropolitan power, but compared to Japan, the U.S. and Europe, China is still a marginal power because its decisions provide only a marginal accretive or decretive impact upon worldwide systems when compared to the decisions made by a metropolitan power.