European science academies’ statement on demographic change in Europe

10 June 2014

Low fertility rates, an ageing population and increased migration within Europe pose significant challenges for policymakers according to a joint statement published today by eight European academies of science. The academies add that Governments and institutions will need to plan for changes in population against a backdrop of climate change and shortages in natural resources.

The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, is one of the signatories of the statement. Among its recommendations, the statement suggests that policy should take advantage of lower fertility rates by investing more in each person – in education and work – in order to keep Europe competitive and maintain its wealth.

The population of Europe is growing older than it has ever before and in most European countries the total period fertility rate has fallen to well below two children. The academies have called for a systematic and life-course approach to policymaking that takes into account the challenges a changing population will present to policies on health, education, employment and physical living conditions.

The national academies urge policymakers to consider how longer working lives, promoted by the macroeconomic need to retain people longer in the labour market and by better individual health and performance levels, demand new flexible life-course patterns. They say policies should provide an institutional basis supportive of more frequent movement between learning, working and private/family life.

The statement also recommends that European standards for the design of working environments, careers and training need to be established based on criteria that aim to support mental and physical well-being in the work place, and to help employees change working practises before their productivity and health are compromised.

Speaking on behalf of the task force that wrote the report and representing the German National Academy of Science Leopoldina, Professor Ursula M. Staudinger, said:

“Demographic change takes place in all of Europe, but at a different pace and met by differing levels of preparedness. We should use Europe’s diversity and immense cultural capacity to increase productivity and to adapt to resource constraints.”

Professor Martyn Poliakoff CBE FRS, Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, said:

“This statement builds on some of the work done by the Royal Society in its People and the Planet report, which investigated the links between global population and consumption. Europe’s population is changing and its governments need to act now if we are to ensure a Europe in which every individual has the opportunity to flourish.”

The statement questions the all-encompassing validity of chronological age as a marker of capacity or performance. It also calls for the development of additional indicators that are sensitive to cohort changes in the ageing process, in particular to observed increases in physical and cognitive performance of older adults from cohort to cohort.

Professor Günter Stock, President of the federation of All European Academies (ALLEA) supports the recommendations conveyed in the joint statement in his personal capacity:

“European values on how to combine work and family life, how to use the individual potential throughout the longer lifespan, and how to best integrate and accommodate migrants vary significantly. From a scientific point of view, academies of science across Europe affirm that it is neither the number of children or of immigrants nor of life years per se, but the quality of living in sustainable conditions we need to improve. This is the direction of reconciling demographic change processes with economic, social and environmental conditions.”

The joint statement has been signed by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, the Royal Society, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences.

*Europe refers to the 28 European member states.