Turning around demographics - “Challenging”

“Challenging” - That I suspect would be the diplomatic word used by those nations who are facing a demographic slump, and there are many across the continent of Europe over the rest of this century and beyond.

Here is a handy little graph from the Wall Street Journal as lifted from the UN.  Tick box a nation (or nations for comparison) and slide you mouse along the curve to watch the numbers rise or fall.

Ukraine, for example is projected to have only 30,240,000 citizens by 2100.  Quite a slide from the peak of 51,666,000 in 1991.   How much of that is due to migration, or simply death rates outstripping birth rates, this graph doesn’t state.

To be honest, whilst I could investigate those figures, but this entry is not about route causes or who is responsible for the continued consistent decline in demographics.

The fact is there is and will continue to be a continued decline in demographics according to the UN forecasts and that is an issue for many European governments - not only the government of Ukraine.

Now at the most fundamental level, leaving net inward migration aside, the only way to increase a national demographic is to have more births than deaths.  Such simple math cannot be avoided.

Things are not that simple though.  We must then add in the variant of net outward and inward migration as well as such matters are subject to policy decisions both domestic and foreign depending of the direction of migration flow.

Thus births and inward migration must be greater than deaths plus outward migration to improve the national demographic.

According to Prime Minister Azarov a month or so ago, in 2013 Ukraine will have a net increase in demographics, largely due, he said, to the reduction of deaths and increase in births.  To say I am dubious about such a claim would be accurate, but he may well be right.

It maybe that some form of perceived stability, however that perception has been engineered, has convinced Ukrainians of reproductive age that now is a good time to do just that.  Certainly there seems to be no shortage of pregnant women or women with very young children walking around Odessa - but Odessa is not Ukraine and Ukraine is not Odessa for the purposes of accuracy.  Local economics, facilities and social “feel good” factors will have casual effects in different regions.

As the saying amongst the local population goes, “Ukraine is Ukraine - but Odessa is Odessa” - immediately inferring that Odessa is “different” to the rest of Ukraine.

It would appear that in the past few days, aside from asking President Yanukovych to release Ms Tymoshenko and Mr Lutsenko as the “Christian thing to do”, the Ukrainian Patriarch (leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church), also asked the President to consider changes to the abortion laws (again), making them far harder to get.

Despite the obvious religious undercurrent of such a request, and I have written before on the subject of abortion, the Ukrainian population has shown an ever decreasing like for such an option anyway.  In short, abortions in Ukraine have dropped from 434,223 in 2000 to a figure of 176,774 in 2010 without legislative interference from the State or as pushed for by the church.

There has been a continual downwards trend and there is no reason to suggest it will not continue - without unnecessary State (or religious) interference.

So if Prime Minister Azarov is correct, and the turn away from abortion by society continues, then maybe Ukraine will indeed buck the trend as forecast by the UN demographers.  In 2013 at least.  The question for policy makers across Europe, as well as Ukraine, is just how to reverse such a demographic trend, not temporarily, but permanently.

Failure to do so? - Well, just click on some African and Asian national demographic forecasts on the UN graph and view them in comparison to those of Ukraine, or more broadly Europe, and imagine what a very different world there will be in the not so distant future.

To employ that word I used at the beginning of this post, for policy makers, it is “challenging”.