Home World How the war in Ukraine is changing the demographics of Europe

How the war in Ukraine is changing the demographics of Europe

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BTO VLADIMIR PUTIN invaded Ukraine on February 24, many Europeans worried that their region was aging and that more people were dying than were being born. The average age of Europe at 43 is almost four years older than North America, followed by a number of gray regions. It is expected that in the next few years the population of the European Union will reach a maximum of 450 million people, and then by 2070 will fall below 424 million. The prospect of declining numbers is intimidating to many. This was particularly frightening for the former communist countries of Eastern Europe, where emigration exacerbated the effects of fertility below replacement. The Prime Minister of Croatia, Andrej Plenković, called the reduction of the population “almost an existential problem for some nations”. Demographic change is “the third key transition in Europe,” along with green and digital, says Dubravka Shuika, vice president of the European Commission for Demography and Democracy, a position created in 2019.

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Among the many upheavals, Mr. Putin’s war has made one of a kind for demographers who tend to view the phenomenon they study as slow. About 5.3 million people – most of them women and children – have fled Ukraine since the start of the war, the vast majority to countries bordering Ukraine in the west. Poland, which until recently exported more people than it received, accepted more than half of them. The population of the capital Warsaw has increased by 17% in weeks. Hungary, whose population shrank from 10.7 million in the mid-1980s to 9.8 million in 2020, accepted more than 500,000 Ukrainians.

Such large numbers can change the demographic destiny. For countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and possibly the Baltics, “this crisis is a turning point that is fast moving to become immigration rather than emigration,” said Tomasz Sabotka of Wittgenstein Center for Demography and Global Development Human Capital in Vienna. The EU offered Ukrainians a unique generous offer, giving them the right to live, work and study in the host country for three years, the privileges for which refugees often struggle for years. This suggests that Ukrainians will be able to quickly take root in new communities. If refugees choose to stay, they will lower the average age of host countries, provide the necessary infusion of a relatively skilled workforce, and shift gender ratios toward women.

It may look like a silver backing to a terrible tragedy, but the future of this demographic disruption is unpredictable. If the war is short-lived, women and children are likely to return to Ukraine soon to reunite with their husbands and parents, who, like all Ukrainian men, are forced by the government to stay in the country when they are 18 to 60 years old. Any demographic dividends, if any, will be unevenly distributed among European countries. And this is likely to decrease due to declining child production as a result of economic uncertainty caused by the war. With an average of 1.6 children per woman, Europeans before the war were already among the most reluctant breeders in the world.

For Ukraine itself, the war is a demographic catastrophe. Its population declined sharply due to emigration and a small number of births, although before the invasion people began to return because the economy had improved. Since February, more than a quarter of the population has been forced to relocate, including 7.7 million people have been displaced. The birth rate is sure to drop even more. Average life expectancy is likely to fall “en masse,” Mr. Sabotka says. He draws attention to the fact that the short war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020 has largely reduced the life expectancy of men by three to four years.

Russia will also suffer for sure. Thousands of well-educated Russians have left the country, which they believe does not offer them a future. Fewer migrants can come to Russia from former members of the Soviet Union to get a job that requires little skill. For the first time in decades, Russia’s migration balance may become negative. Unfortunately, Mr. Putin’s birth is likely to fall. Like his friend Viktor Orban, Hungary’s authoritarian leader, Putin spat out money to encourage women to have children. In 2020, he extended a one-time payment of “maternal capital” of $ 7,600 to families when they have their first child; previously it was only available to those who already had a child. Putin expected to increase the birth rate from 1.5 to 1.7. The fright caused by his war is likely to push her in the opposite direction.

Polesie position

Countries in western Ukraine look like population gains, although the influx is putting a strain on some, especially tiny Moldova, which has taken in more than 400,000 refugees, equivalent to 15% of its population. For Poland, where in 2020 about 1.4 million Ukrainians lived and worked, the arrival of millions of others shifts the demographic clock to World War II, when the country had a large Ukrainian minority. The interethnic hostility that resulted in the post-war forced population exchange between Poland and the Soviet Union has diminished.

Theoretically, newcomers should give a boost to Poland. The ruling Law and Justice Party seeks to increase the number of Poles. In 2016, he sought to increase the birth rate by giving families 500 zlotys ($ 115) a month for each child after the first. The effect was to encourage women who were already planning to have children to give birth earlier so as not to cancel the benefit. The number of births increased in the first two years of the scheme, but in 2020 fell to its lowest level since 2003. The war in Ukraine has added more than a million children to Poland’s population, at least temporarily.

Other European countries, especially those with a large Ukrainian diaspora, may benefit. Gillian Trigs of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that about 1.5 million refugees have moved to the far west, including Germany, Italy and France. Before the war, about 250,000 Ukrainians lived and worked in Italy, where the average age is four years higher than in Europe as a whole, and the birth rate is one of the lowest. In the first three months of this year, Austria’s population increased by half a percentage point to more than 9 million; 83% of this growth is accounted for by Ukrainian immigration.

For a region concerned about demographic decline, the youthful influx from Ukraine may seem like a blessing, though it is a consequence of horror. Businesses are reporting labor shortages. According to a survey by the European Commission, in January a quarter of manufacturing and service enterprises in the euro area restrained labor shortages. Governments complain that the shrinking workforce will have to support an increasing number of retirees. The ratio of working-age Europeans (aged 20-64) to those over 65 is expected to fall from three to one to less than two to one by 2070. This is a problem that can be solved at least for a while by the arrival of able-bodied and healthy Ukrainians.

But how long will they stay? And do male family members join them? It depends on how long the war lasts, and on how much damage is done to their home country. In the 1999 Kosovo war, when NATO bombed Yugoslavia to prevent ill-treatment of ethnic Albanians, who make up the majority in Kosovo, hundreds of thousands fled or were forcibly relocated to neighboring Albania and Macedonia. But this period of war lasted 78 days, after which the Kosovars quickly returned. In contrast to the Bosnian war, which lasted from 1992 to 1995, some 700,000 refugees fled to Western Europe and beyond, and far fewer returned. This is one of the reasons why there are 3.2 million or fewer people in Bosnia today. Before the war it was 4m.

Italy could do without some newbies

So far, Ukrainians are still trying to return home. Indeed, in the last few days the number of those returning across the Polish border is believed to be in relatively safe places such as Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, has exceeded the number of those returning the other way. And some industries have lost workers as young Ukrainian men return home to fight Russian invaders. The growth of the Slovak construction sector, for example, has been weakened by the outflow of workers.

But as the war drags on and children get used to the new schools, mothers may no longer want to return to their old homes. This will be even more true if Ukraine’s economy does not recover, which will encourage men to head west and some to join their wives. In this case, unnecessary replenishment of the population of Europe west of Ukraine may be long-term. And if governments successfully encourage newcomers to find jobs that match their qualifications, they will contribute to the prosperity of their masters.

Many countries will miss. Croatia, whose population has shrunk by 600,000 since 1991 to 3.9 million, is unlikely to attract many Ukrainians, according to the latest census. By early April, about 11,000 people had arrived. Russophile Serbia, whose population has shrunk by a tenth to 6.9 million since the mid-1990s, is also unlikely to please Ukrainians in large numbers.

Profits from the tributary where they occur may be short-lived. The greatest impact on the readiness of families to have children has their confidence in the economy. The number of births in Europe fell sharply after the pandemic began, but recovered when governments lifted the blockade and poured money into their economy. Mr Putin’s aggression and rising inflation have dealt a new blow to people’s confidence.

In March, economic uncertainty among consumers reached its highest level in history, according to the European Commission. Few people may be inclined to increase their families. No one can be more reluctant than Ukrainian women, among whom the birth rate was already low, who were separated from their husbands and expelled from their homes. The Balkan wars deprived the region of some of the best and brightest of generations, as well as their descendants. A similar fate can await Ukraine.

Read more from our recent coverage Ukrainian crisis

https://www.economist.com/international/2022/04/30/how-the-war-in-ukraine-is-changing-europes-demography

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