Demographics: The Other Euro Crisis

I made this map at the OECD’s website of the percentage of people in each region between the ages of 0 and 14. I’ve pasted Europe next to North America, shifting the two continents vertically and horizontally, which makes comparisons easier, but also distorts the distance scales a bit.

In a stable society with an average lifespan of 78 years, the portion of people who are 14 or under should be 14/78, or about 18%. In a growing society, the percentage will be higher than this. So, in this map I’ve set the neutral color to be 18%, with darker shades of blue indicating that more than 18% of the population is 0-14 and darker shades of red indicating that less than 18% of the population is in that age range.

(click image to enlarge)

First, I’m impressed that data is easily available at the sub-national level. It really gives a different picture compared to simply reporting a single figure for each nation.

Personally, though, I was surprised how easy it is to still see various political borders, such as between Canada and the US, Spain vs. France, and eastern Germany compared to Poland.

And it was astonishing how striking the difference is in the populations of North America and Europe. Mexico and northern Canada are very young, but southern Canada and basically all of Europe have a striking shortage of children.

Only a few regions in the US have populations of 0-14 year olds under 18%, and many of those regions have low populations: New England, upstate New York and Appalachia, the U.P. of Michigan and some scattered places in the West. In fact, no region in the US, even in Florida, has a percentage of 0-14 year olds anywhere near as low as what you find throughout much of Europe. And the regions of Canada and Europe with shortages of children are essentially all of the most heavily populated places and those currently having the most financial trouble: Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece and Germany. Even Paris and London have shortages of children, though it is difficult to see sinceĀ their surroundings are bluer.

Europeans are presently concerned with their financial troubles: debt, unemployment, GDP growth, interest spreads. But this map makes me think there is a much larger Euro crisis – the lack of children. And, oddly, this lack of children makes the financial situation seem better than it really is. If a couple makes $100,000 between them and have a child, their per-capita income is $33,333. However, if they don’t have a child, their PCI is $50,000. Children also tend to need medical care and education.

So, by not having children, places like Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece are making their per-capita incomes look higher and the percentage of GDP spent on health care and schools lower than they would otherwise be.

It also surprising to me just how quickly the demographic situation in Europe has changed in the last decade. It would be a bit time-consuming to make an animation of this, so please explore the OECD’s stats maps website on your own.

Many people are talking about Europe’s financial crisis as if it will correct itself in a couple of years, or maybe a little longer. But every day the number of retirees rises and not enough new workers are replacing them. Unless I am seriously misreading the numbers, at this point I cannot see a future scenario for the bulk of Europe that is both pleasant and realistic.

UPDATE (3 July 2012): The Economist magazine has a new article called ‘Europe’s other crisis‘ that deals with this same topic.


  1. Two World Wars and an economic depression dominated the first half of the 20th century. World War I was fought between 1914 and 1918. It started when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by the Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip .

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