N°17> Can migrations compensate for the demographic weakness of Europe?
From the observation of the European population decline and the strong growth of it in Africa, we often conclude the imminence of important migrations from the South to the EU. It is an old and simplistic idea, inspired by a comparison between demography and meteorology.
For those who do not fear "invasions", migration should be encouraged because it could counterbalance the current and future aging of European populations. The influx of foreigners would offset the risk of a decline in the European population and working population, which seems to be rising in view of the low fertility of Europe (on average 1.5 children per woman). Mainly, this would fight the aging of a population particularly worried for the balance of pension plans. Increasing the number of workers means increasing the number of contributors without changing the amount of beneficiaries because the huge majority of migrants are young.
At the outbreak of the refugee crisis, it was assumed that Angela Merkel had facilitated the reception of Syrians and other refugees for this reason. It is possible that such an opportunity was taken into account in the political choice of the Chancellor. Nevertheless, it was not the case in countries where this demographic situation is the same, or worse, like in Hungary or Slovakia. Besides, the difficulties encountered by the migrants to reach Germany have in fact selected the most educated and the wealthier ones. If a million of them have arrived in Europe, five million (i.e. the poorest) still live in camps or in precarious conditions in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Eight million are internal refugees in their own country according to UNHCR. Regardless of the quantity of migrants, quality in terms of human capital is therefore not at stake. This matchs with a general trend of migration to developed countries, whose most of the migrants belong to educated young people category. Of the 260,000 people who received a residence permit in France for their first entry in 2016, 65% had the equivalent of a bachelor's degree or a university degree.
So the subect is only about quantity: can the immigration prevent the projected decline in Europe's total population, its labor force, and thwart the effects of aging?
The present study attempts to test these ideas by the absurd - refering to the term used in mathematical demonstrations, that is to say by simulating the quantitative consequences of immigration and, more precisely, by assessing the number of immigrants needed, to eventually maintain the total population or the active population, or to counterbalance the aging population of the European Union.
The article begins by showing the estimated evolution of the populations of the European Union and Africa by 2050. It assumes an extension of the migrations observed during the last decade, before establishing the migratory variants necessary to maintain the total population of the European Union (EU), its active population until 2050, and finally the average number of elderly inactive persons per active person. Amidst such forecasts, it is supposed that, except from migration, the other parameters remain constant, especially the activity rates by age. But they can vary and help reducing the aging of the population as we will see at the end of the demonstration.
Migration is a response to demographic problems, but finally we highlight that it is neither the only nor the most effective. Similarly, it is obvious that the issue of migration is not just a matter of economic and demographic accounting. It also raises serious political issue with the increase of populism, which will not be approched in this article.
Hervé LE BRAS