“Europe has just entered a critical phase of its demographic evolution,” O’Neill and his colleagues wrote in Science this spring. While Europe’s population is expected to rise over the next fifteen years, the researchers say that for each decade birth rates remain at their current level the European Union’s population will decline by 25 million to 40 million— barring dramatic increases in immigration or life expectancy. Twenty years of such low fertility rates would translate to a population decline of 88 million by 2100.
One solution may be to encourage women to have children at an earlier age—exactly the opposite message being given to women in developing countries where overpopulation is the problem. “Childbearing could come to be considered a ‘social act’ rather than a purely private decision,” the researchers write.