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image European Research News Centre > Research and Society > Did you say the 'Old World'?
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image image image Date published: 11/07/2001
  image Did you say the 'Old World'?
RTD info 30
  Are Europe's demographic trends a time bomb waiting to go off? Although economic and social scientists are agreed on the figures, the scenarios sketched by the researchers differ. But one thing's certain: the age of the baby boom is well and truly over.

Europeans currently make up 13% of the world's population. Fifty years from now they will represent no more than 7%. Their total numbers will remain stable, but their average age will increase from 36 in 1995 to 45 in 2025. This considerable change will result from two trends: a major increase in the over-65s - and particularly in the over-80s - and a reduction of at least 10% in the 15-29 age group.

This dramatic change will require action by Europe's decision-makers, who are already drawing attention to its significance. One of the most frequently discussed questions is how a small number of working people are going to be able to finance pension funds in ageing societies with increased social costs on the one hand, and possibly reduced economic resources on the other - due to the very fact of this inversion of the age pyramid.

Another key dimension of this shift is linked to the advent of the 'knowledge-based society', the inevitable consequence of scientific and technological progress. How are education and training policies - with the mission of making maximum use of available skills and abilities - going to adapt to this new demographic structure?

There are two theses. One in particular, which was elaborated upon at the European Council of Research and Education Ministers in March, favours supporting policies aimed at helping young people.

Essentially this involves making up for their relative scarcity in numbers by increasing their added value. The other, developed under the Futures macro-project conducted by the IPTS (Institute for Prospective Technological Studies in Seville), stresses the importance of drawing on the potential of older sections of the population by giving priority to 'lifelong education'.

In exploring these two possible ways forward - seen as complementary rather than in competition - a vital debate for Europe's future is unfolding.



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