European Parliamentary Research Service Blog

Demographic outlook for the European Union 2021

© European Union, 2021

EU-27 population pyramids for 2001 and 2019 (number of women and men by age group)

The impact of demography on economic, social and environmental developments in the world is undeniable. According to the latest statistical data, population trends that were already present in the EU before 2019, continued to persist. For instance, despite its population increase from 354.5 million in 1960 to 447.7 million in 2019, the EU-27 represents a shrinking proportion of the global population, which grew, for its part, from 3.03 billion in 1960 to 7.71 billion in 2019. However, EU population growth is not due to a higher birth rate (the number of live births is constantly shrinking; it stood at 4.15 million in 2019, compared to 6.79 million in 1964), but to the fact that people live longer. In fact, life expectancy rose dramatically from 69.86 years in the 1960-1965 period to 81 years in 2018, and in parallel, the median age of the population increased from 38.4 years in 2001 (earliest Eurostat data available) to 43.7 years in 2019. The ageing of the EU-27 population poses challenges to the labour market, due to the shrinking size of the working-age population. In 2019, there were only around two working-age persons (15-64 years) for every younger or older person likely to be dependent on them. Other potential challenges include pressures on the healthcare system, higher age-related public spending and the depopulation of certain regions.

Demography is on the agenda of the von der Leyen Commission; future EU responses will focus on lifelong learning and healthy lifestyles, as well as on bringing more people (women, migrants, disabled people and older workers) onto the labour market through incentives. Even if the actual implications of the coronavirus pandemic for demography are not yet measurable, surveys are already pointing to an increase in the number of deaths compared to similar periods from previous years, mainly in remote areas with less developed healthcare systems or in areas with high population density and frequent intergenerational contacts. There has also been a decrease in fertility rates, mainly due to economic reasons. In fact, unemployment and poverty were already a challenge for the EU before the pandemic, but the stressful economic and health situation it brought about has only exacerbated this challenge.

Poverty is closely correlated with fertility rates at country level, even if the causal explanations of this fact remain disputed among scientists. The level of women’s education is one of the factors cited to explain why poverty goes hand in hand with high fertility rates. Globally, children and the elderly – two age groups that are both dependent on working-age adults – are particularly vulnerable to poverty. Less developed countries, where general poverty is more widespread, are at higher risk of child and older-age poverty. In comparison with other G20 countries, EU Member States show lower relative poverty rates among both children and seniors.

Findings on migration to the EU seem to show a certain link to poverty – with migrants escaping poverty in their countries of origin and improving their families’ lives through remittances – but this link has to be put into perspective. International migrants are generally people of intermediate wealth and level of skills allowing them to cover the high costs and risks associated with migration. The poorest in third countries seem to lack these resources and knowledge; for them, migration is more a recklessly risky attempt to survive or escape from poverty. Within the EU, internal migration is seen as an expression of free labour mobility – a fundamental freedom of EU citizens. Unlike migration to the EU, it is not regarded as a one-way movement, as witnessed by the tendency towards return migration to some sending EU Member States in central and eastern Europe since 2016. As regards age-related tendencies in migration, both international migrants to the EU and internal migrants in the EU are mostly of working age (20-64 years), with international migrants to the EU having a median age of 29.2 years, much lower than the median age for the EU-27.

Demographic Outlook for the European Union 2021 Български (jpg | pdf) – Español (jpg | pdf) – Čeština (jpg | pdf) – Dansk (jpg | pdf) – Deutsch (jpg | pdf) – Eesti Keel (jpg | pdf) – Ελληνικά (jpg | pdf) – English (jpg | pdf) – Français (jpg | pdf) – Italiano (jpg | pdf) – Magyar (jpg | pdf) – Malti (jpg | pdf) – Nederlands (jpg | pdf) – Polski (jpg | pdf) – Português (jpg | pdf) – Română (jpg | pdf) – Slovenčina (jpg | pdf) – Slovenščina (jpg | pdf) – Suomi (jpg | pdf) – Svenska (jpg | pdf) Graphic taken from the EPRS Study ‘Demographic outlook for the European Union 2021 ‘.

As regards people at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU-27, after their number peaked at 108.7 million in 2012, it fell to 92.4 million (21.1 %) in 2019. The risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU involves a combination of three main factors: monetary poverty, severe material deprivation and/or very low work intensity. Monetary poverty was the most prevalent form of poverty and social exclusion in 2019, with 16.5 % of the EU-27 population (72.4 million persons) being at risk of poverty, to a rather small extent combined with one or both of the other two factors. There are large differences when analysing the risk of poverty or social exclusion by age. In 2019, the highest risk of poverty or social exclusion was recorded for those aged 18-24 years (27.8 %) and the lowest for those aged 65 years and over (18.6 %). In-between these two age groups, the risk of poverty or social exclusion was 19.9 % for people aged 25-49 years and 21.9 % for those aged 50-64 years. The youngest age group – under 18 years – also faced a relatively high risk (22.5 %).

Education reduces the risk of high poverty and may prevent the occurrence, in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, of a generation that would otherwise be much poorer than the generation following the 2008 crisis.

Women are most at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Household composition also has a direct impact on the risk of poverty. This risk looms as soon as there are children to look after at home, and rises as their number increases. Of all family types, single adult households face the biggest risk of poverty or social exclusion. Moreover, work no longer guarantees protection against poverty.

There are considerable variations in the number of people at risk of poverty across EU regions. Urbanisation also plays a role. In western Europe, the risk of social exclusion and poverty tends to be a bit higher in cities than in rural areas. On the other hand, in eastern Europe, rural areas tend to have a higher number of people affected by poverty than cities. Nevertheless, there are considerable pockets of poverty within urban areas too. There is also a clear trend of wealth accumulation at the EU core versus its periphery.

The coronavirus crisis has engendered specific risks for the most deprived and posed an unparalleled challenge for the actions supported by the EU as regards people living in poverty and/or social exclusion. To face the major labour crisis triggered by the pandemic and its social consequences, the EU has taken initiatives to address immediate needs and mitigate negative impacts on employment and social policy.


Read the complete study on ‘Demographic outlook for the European Union 2021‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Exit mobile version