By: Liana Balicka

The process of ageing of the population brought about by the fall in the number of births compared   to the number of deaths is the phenomenon of demographic decline. What are its causes and consequences? How to explain why the fertility rate is changing, what factors contribute to the birth rate falling or rising, how to understand the connection between the birth rate and the number of women of childbearing age and their fertility? Finally, how will these factors evolve in the future?The birth rate observed in a given year depends on the number of women of reproductive age, i.e. between 15 and 49, on their age structure and how often women of different ages bear children, in other words on their fertility. In contrast, the fertility of women of childbearing age is characterised by the total fertility rate for a given year, namely the average number of children born to women of childbearing age. A fertility rate of 2.10-2.15 is regarded as normal replacement level fertility, but a figure below 1.5 indicates low fertility whereas a figure below 1.3 denotes very low fertility. It is believed that fertility rates which remain below 1.5 for extended periods of time lead to irreversible changes in the age structure of the population and, subsequently, to population decline.

In the coming years, the birth rate is expected to fall, even if the total fertility rate increases. The excess of deaths over births in the next twenty to thirty years may rise to 100-200 thousand per year. This is the natural consequence, observed in recent decades, of changes in the process of reproducing generations, i.e. the reproduction of the population. Mitigating these changes by supporting the total fertility rate, for instance through government programmes and strategies or granting of various social benefits and subsidies, unfortunately does not work. The above-mentioned and other solutions, which would help eliminate the material insecurity of young people, are nevertheless – historically – marginal, as confirmed by cases in various countries. The burden on the state budget is not commensurate with the statistical improvement of fertility rate. Therefore, this trend is difficult to stop, and the fact that the population will age rapidly is simply impossible to avoid. An ageing population leads to a reduction in the country’s economic potential. Significantly more deaths and fewer births, in addition to a 15% drop in migration and another year of pandemic disease, have contributed to a demographic collapse. The belief that large-scale epidemics are a thing of the past has proved naïve, as documented by a year of dismal death records, thus throwing demographic projections into the dustbin. The chances of a recovery, as yet, are difficult to estimate.

It should be made clear that it is not possible to maintain a constant population in the future, let alone increase it, simply as a result of an increase in total fertility rate. However, the data documenting the birth rate are worrying as well.  The crisis has hit young people who are in or entering the labour market the most, and this is not conducive to decisions about having children. The solution, particularly with regard to young people, could be effective reforms serving as a catalyst for economic development.

Does the level of the reproduction of the population falling below the replacement level fertility threshold matter to those living today? Unfortunately yes, because such a scenario means above all a significant decline in the economic prosperity.

According to the latest studies, the demographic situation has reached a crisis level, which has been going on for a long time, and the spectre of crisis is already hanging over not only Poland and Europe, but almost half of the modern world, which may lead to significant changes. The whole world will experience demographic collapse, not just Europe. The turning point will come in 2064 – the world’s population should then reach 9.7 billion. Subsequently, it is expected to start falling, and demographic analysis suggests that the global population will start shrinking. This shall lead to a decline in the working age population, which will hit the GDP and the tax system. Demographic shifts are bound to have a negative impact on economic growth and living standards. They will also put a serious strain on pension systems and the health service.

A demographic crisis can be the ultimate determinant of a nation’s fate. Population potential is an essential element in the strength of any state.  Negative population growth has been recorded in as many as 17 European countries. The total fertility rate is also alarming. All EU countries are well below the parameter required to maintain the replacement level fertility. If this trend is not halted, the countries of the Old Continent will be faced with a gigantic social and economic problem.