While the EU flounders from crisis to crisis, whether it is to do with Greek debt or rising crime in Germany and Sweden, Europe as a whole is facing a problem that attracts much less attention. It is dying on its feet, as an even cursory glance at its current demographic profile tells you.
Until the mid-twentieth century the demographics of most European countries were like many African countries today: a pyramid. The largest age group was the newly-born, with successively fewer people in each year group through to the most elderly. But around 1960, something unprecedented happened in Britain: the birth rate plummeted – so much so that Britain’s demographic profile today looks more like a tower. Today there are roughly the same number of people in each year group from 0 to 55.
In other European countries the collapsing birth rate is even more dramatic. There are far fewer children than there are middle-aged people, with the result that the native population is declining with increasing rapidity. Germany’s demographic profile, for example, looks more like a diamond.
An ever increasing ageing population means far greater demands for health and social care in the future. It needs many more young people to become doctors, nurses and carers if the current travails of our health system are not to get a whole lot worse.
If politicians are open about the unsustainability of this problem, they are far less so when it comes to pensions, most of which operate on the basis that you pay in for 40 years, then when you retire younger people who are still working take over the paying out. This is essentially a classic Ponzi scheme, which works when there are about 20 working people for every pensioner. No longer. Today there are fewer than 3 working people per pensioner and the ratio is reducing fast.
Bean counters and technocrats have known about this for years. Their solution has been to encourage rapid, mass immigration to bulk up the bottom of Europe’s collapsing demographic diamonds and to turn them back into pyramids.
It has proved far from a problem-free ‘solution’. Many new migrants are not the highly skilled workers promised by the technocrats; nor do they have the skills needed to earn enough to give the country a sufficient tax return, once the cost of social security, education and healthcare is factored in. As the countries of Europe are fast finding out, recent mass migration has come with its own costs – not least those of looking after the new arrivals and their families.
In the minds of technocrats, cultural and social cohesion counts for little. There is a remarkable casualness about the integration of millions of first time asylum applicants who have arrived in Europe in recent years. Most are young men from very different cultural and religious backgrounds, for whom assimilation proves hard indeed.
But policy wise it does not have to be a binary choice between cultural collapse (breakdown of social cohesion) and demographic collapse. There is a third option. It is to address the declining birth rate at home; to address the economic and social reasons why British women are delaying childbirth until it is too late and why so few couples now have more than one child.
One key reason is public policy hostility to stay at home mothers and to single earner married families.
Solving our death wish means sacrificing one of the sacred cows of political correctness: the feminist and public policy antipathy towards stay at home mothers nurturing and caring for their children themselves.
Feminists of the past rightly fought for equal rights for women, but today’s feminist demand that all mothers be helped back into the workplace as soon as possible after childbirth is impractical as well as unkind. It might be fine for those at the top of the political and media tree who have enough money to ‘have it all’ – a career with a six figure salary and enough money to pay for childcare. But for the majority of parents on average salaries, it is undesirable as well a unaffordable. So what happens? They make the choice to delay or forgo having children, thus exacerbating the demographic collapse.
Any disagreement with the view that mothers must get back to work as soon as possible after childbirth is deemed to be old-fashioned and chauvinistic and most political parties across Europe toe the ‘party’ line.
A few, however, have taken baby-steps to change direction and begin to implement policies to encourage choice and support ‘stay-at-home mums’, notably France, Russia and Israel. Russia and Israel, in particular, have recently begun to grow from within the native population, rather than from relying on bringing in immigrants.
Providing and valuing a choice to be a ‘stay-at-home mum’ brings huge benefits to children – better life outcomes if mothers stay at home to look after them when they are young, especially in the first three years – and the concomitant revaluation of fatherhood would benefit boys too. This in itself should be enough to influence policy.
So the one constructive way to halt the current demographic collapse without risking social cohesion is to ditch the failed ideologies of the sixties, revalue motherhood and give women the choice to stay at home to have families again, instead of forcing them back on the work treadmill within weeks of giving birth. Only then will Europe avoid dying on its feet.
(Image: Paladin Justice)