Europe has never felt older. It is the continent with the fastest ageing population in the world, and if its welfare system is to remain sustainable its labour market is in desperate need of workers. At a time when Europe needs migrant workers, it is ironic to see anti-immigration parties thriving in most European Member States. A fertility rate of 2.1 births per woman is considered to be the desirable rate for any population to remain stable, yet many of the Member States in the EU currently have a fertility rate of 1.4 or less. One need only look at Greece, with a fertility rate of 1.3, to see that at this rate Europe’s population will shrink and its pensions systems will collapse. There is little doubt that the most cost-effective way to avoid an economic catastrophe would be to allow migrants into ‘Fortress Europe’. Doing so would ultimately help boost Europe’s current labour supply, and finance the welfare states in anticipation of the retiring baby-boomers. However, in this current political climate, national government are very unlikely to resort to such actions. Indeed, populist political parties are currently using immigrants as scapegoats for slow economic growth, whilst also blaming them for recent terror attacks and social unrest. Unfortunately, these actions only serve to further marginalise migrants whilst reinforcing stereotypes. This is not the right approach.
The average age of Europe’s population is currently 43, far higher than the average age of 35 for immigrants. These younger individuals are of an ideal age to enter the labour market of Member States and will ultimately help to finance the states’ welfare bill through taxation. Whilst the arrival of some illegal and unskilled workers into the EU is inevitable, OECD research found that up to two-thirds of immigrants arriving in Europe have been to university. Such skills mean that, contrary to what populist parties may say, migrant workers rarely come to Europe in order to live off benefits. Indeed, using the example of the UK, a recent study by Dustmann and Frattini of UCL found that between 2001 and 2011, post-2000 non-EEA immigrants provided a net contribution of £2.9 billion to the British budget. In contrast, native Britons actually net cost the budget £624 billion over the same period. This should make people realise the inaccurate myths fed to us by the media and politicians.
Opposing immigration into European Member States will only serve to make a bad problem worse. Indeed, Eurostat expects Germany’s population to drop from 82 million to 74.7 million by 2050, while the average age is predicted to rise to 50. As the baby-boomers retire and fertility rates continue to drop, this trend will only get worse. People often ignore the economic consequences of a shrinking population. However, unsustainable welfare bills due to the fall in productivity levels will lead to slower economic growth throughout the continent, where these rates are already very low. As Europe continues to age and the number of pensioners continues to rise, Europe’s population will soon have to face the fact that in order to enjoy the fruit of their labour via state pensions, extra migrant workers are going to be needed. If not, we will only have ourselves to blame.