Ageing deepens debt-laden Europe's economic woes

Ageing deepens debt-laden Europe's economic woes

RIGA/LISBON - Long after the debt crisis is over, Europe will be grappling with an even more serious problem - how to pay for growing numbers of old people.

The population of some countries is stagnant or already shrinking, notably Germany's. That will reduce savings and potential economic growth.

The workers who remain are getting older and so are less productive. That will hold back living standards.

And the ranks of retirees are swelling. That will threatening the financing of pensions and health care.

In the 27 countries of the European Union, each pensioner is today supported on average by four people of working age. By 2050, this old-age support ratio will have fallen to just 2:1, according to United Nations and EU projections.

Latvia, which has applied to join the euro in 2014, is but an extreme example of these trends. By 2060 there will be four Latvians of working age for every three aged 65.

Because of emigration and low fertility, the Baltic state's population shrank by 14 per cent, or 340,000 people, between 2000 and 2011, prompting warnings of an existential threat to the nation.

"I don't want to make apocalyptic statements. I hope that the country can manage. But the alarm bell has rung," said Mihail Hazans, an economics professor at the University of Latvia and the county's leading demographer.

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