Family and Demography in Europe

Author: PCF


Pontifical Council for the Family

(The Pontifical Council for the Family has convened meetings on "the family and demography" in various continents: Latin America held in Mexico City in 1993, and Asia and Oceania, held in Taipei in 1995. The third meeting in this series, on "the family and demography in Europe", was held in Rome on 17-19 October 1996. From most European nations, Bishops who are Presidents of Commissions for the Family and representatives of the Roman dicasteries met with experts in demography, economics, political science, theologians and moralists. At the conclusion of the meeting, the following recommendations were approved unanimously by the 70 participants.)


As participants in the meeting convened by the Pontifical Council for the Family on "the Family and Demography in Europe", we have carefully considered the situation in this continent. We make the following recommendations with a sense of urgency and deep concern.

1. The world situation

<First we recommend that any study of population trends in Europe must be seen in the context of the current world demographic situation.>

1.1. World population growth is based principally on three factors: the rise of life expectancy, which is mainly the consequence of the fall of infant mortality, and the phenomenon of the "population momentum", brought about by a greater number of mothers than in previous generations. At the same time a decline of the rate of natural increase is observable almost everywhere because women are having fewer children.

1.2. For these and other reasons, the United Nations projections for the growth of the world's population now favour moderate to low projections for population growth rather than the alarmist exaggerations which were current several years ago. Unfortunately these exaggerations continue to be invoked by some agencies.

2. Europe today

<Secondly, we recommend that the demographic situation in Europe must be described clearly and objectively. To this end, we underline the following realities.>

2.1. According to the unanimous view of the experts, the demographic situation in Europe is a matter of great concern. Some even speak of a "demographic winter".

2.2. Falling fertility rates are found in all Western and Central European countries. The same trends have begun in Eastern Europe, accompanied by an influx of Western consumerism. With a few exceptions, the synthetic fertility index is lower than that required for the replacement of the generations.

2.3. At the same time, there is a higher life expectancy and Europe is marked by an aging population. The aged persons' dependency ratio is increasing. In some countries more than 15% of the population are older than 65. An increasing proportion of aged people creates a serious demographic imbalance.

2.4. These problems coincide with a fall in the number of marriages over the past 25 years. The marriage rates are declining. In some Western European countries the majority of young people choose cohabitation rather than marriage. These arrangements are often childless and may last for some years. Since the 1970's there has been a sharp rise in the number of children born outside marriage. The fragile relationship of cohabitation coincides with higher rates of divorce. Statistics show more single-person households.

2.5. The average age at which women marry has risen steadily. Moreover women postpone childbearing. This means that it takes longer for the replacement of the generations.

2.6. The most important demographic phenomenon in Europe, which is of concern to all demographers, is the smaller base of younger people that must support an ever-growing number of aged persons. This phenomenon is described as the "inverted pyramid".

2.7. Due to higher levels of prosperity, emigration to countries outside Europe has slowed down generally. At the same time emigration from regions where there is unemployment is usually to other European countries where workers are needed.

2.8. Immigration helps to sustain the population of some European countries. Political and economic reasons account for the large immigrant population who came into Germany from the Balkans. Germans from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have returned to Germany in large numbers. The presence of many workers from Southern Europe in certain countries is an example of the fluid movement of populations within Europe as people seek work in a changing situation.

3. Causes and effects

<Thirdly, we recommend that the causes and effects of the population situation in Europe should be analysed carefully. To this end, we indicate the following major factors.>

3.1. One of the most important factors behind the demographic crisis in Europe is the role of women. The factors which lead women to work outside the home have resulted in a lower birth rate. An overemphasis on a woman's activities outside the home has brought about less esteem for motherhood and a woman's role in the home.

3.2. At the same time, the lower number of children per family is linked to the demands of a consumerist society and higher costs of raising children. In regions once noted for a positive attitude to child-bearing "one or two children" is now "the rule". The mass media and advertizing reinforce this social convention and housing is designed for the small family.

3.3. Within the shrinking European family, the child is often deprived of brothers and sisters and lacks the socializing community offered by the larger family.

3.4. The ideological factors behind Europe's "demographic winter" must never be forgotten. Europe is currently dominated by well-placed minority groups opposed to the family. The individualistic model of the person can frequently be linked to the anti-life mentality and anti-life propaganda. Radical feminists and others have gained legalized abortion. New chemical methods of abortion are being more widely used.

3.5. Attempts to legalize euthanasia follow legalized abortion. In the context of Europe's demographic crisis, there is an increasing tendency to make the aged, the disabled and the seriously ill feel they are "a burden on society" and that they should "choose" to die.

3.6. The contraceptive revolution and its effects on attitudes is another factor behind the demographic crisis in Europe. Couples are having fewer children than they originally wished.

3.7. A sterile sexuality is also promoted by the mass media and through promiscuity, pornography and homosexuality.

3.8. The social and economic effects of demographic imbalance are already of concern to some governments. A higher proportion of elderly people makes heavy demands on the social welfare services. At the same time a shrinking workforce is under greater pressure to sustain the welfare system through taxation. A further effect of the demographic phenomenon of the "inverted pyramid" is the loss of intergenerational wisdom and experience.

3.9. Immigration can have positive effects in assisting the economies of countries with low fertility rates and in enriching the local culture. But donor countries often suffer the loss of skilled workers. Moreover, migrants are often the objects of hostility and a fear that they are gaining economic advantages leads to increasing racism and religious intolerance.

3.10. Considerable amounts of money are given by the European Union in order, directly or indirectly, to control population growth in developing countries. In fact these programmes, presenting themselves almost always as "aid", are the expression of a kind of neo-colonialism which violates the sovereignty of other nations and the just autonomy of married couples.

3.11. We are deeply concerned that, by taking this position, the European Union jeopardizes the <Universal Declaration of Human Rights> of 1948. Specific threats are: the misuse of "consensus" as the source of law; the distortion of the meaning of the <Universal Declaration>; the introduction of spurious "rights" with regard to "reproductive health", homo-sexuality and abortion; the redefinition of "family"; the "gender" ideology, etc.

3.12. It seems paradoxical that some European nations with falling birthrates are the leaders in exporting population control policies. In collusion with international organizations and pharmaceutical companies, they fund contraception, sterilization and even abortion in developing countries, while promoting an outdated Malthusian population ideology.

3.13. Thus, in the face of widespread indifference to reality, Europe's demographic crisis has been compared to the <Titanic>, when those on board continued to order more champagne as the ship steadily sank. But, in the case of Europe, the ship need not sink.

4. Towards a future of hope and growth

<Finally, we make some concrete proposals which can help overcome the demographic crisis which besets Europe today.>

4.1. The rebirth of Europe depends largely on a rediscovery of the family, the sanctuary of life, the cradle of humanity, and sign of hope for the future.

4.2. As various modern studies indicate, the family is the true source of the real wealth of Europe: mature and responsible men and women. In the words of Pope John Paul II, the family is the "school of the virtues", which promotes social growth, peace and prosperity. In the family, children can be schooled in the values and traditions of Christian Europe, on which the future depends.

4.3. But politicians' fine words "in favour of the family" are not enough. The family itself needs to be supported by specific long-term family policies, including: tax reform, adequate family housing, with emphasis on the special needs of young families, family credit, family subsidies and maternity allowances, etc.

4.4. The role of women as wives and mothers should be sustained by family policy, and all discrimination against women who work in the home should be eliminated. There is a need to take special measures to integrate the activities of women outside the home with their work at home, a question that is currently being followed by the Pontifical Council for the Family.

4.5. The role of men as husbands and fathers in the home is increasing. This phenomenon must be recognized and men should be supported in their family activities.

4.6. We recognize that there still exists a substantial number of European families with three or more children. As the key to a better demographic future; these families should enjoy not only the support of the Church, but also concrete advantages written into pro-family legislation.

4.7. At base, the demographic crisis is an ethical question, centred around a misunderstanding of the nature of the human person, hence a misunderstanding of the family and society as a whole.

4.8. Therefore, we call on the Church in Europe to respond to the demographic crisis. Priority should be given to new strategies for the pastoral care of the family which would break the destructive cycle of conforming to a negative mentality, closed to God's gift of new life within the commitment of marriage.

4.9. In this context, the modern methods for the natural regulation of fertility must be promoted in order to free married couples from the contraceptive and anti-life mentality. When used for just reasons, these methods can help lead married people to a truly responsible fatherhood and motherhood.

4.10. The struggle against abortion and euthanasia takes on an urgent meaning in the context of the "demographic winter". As Pope John Paul II said: "A people which kills its own children is a people without a future" (Angelus Message, 1 September 1996). Until every unborn child and aged, seriously ill or disabled person is respected as having inherent rights, what Pope John Paul II describes as the "culture of death" will continue to menace the families and peoples of Europe.

4.11. The pastoral care of migrants requires a better understanding of their needs and problems, together with the defence of their rights and their welfare.

4.12. Finally, we call on the Church to promote wider awareness and open discussion of the European demographic crisis, its real causes and the impact it has on the family and its members.

4.13. There is a great need for dialogue on the demographic reality and demographic policies with governments parliaments, with legislators, politicians and institutions. This dialogue should not only be on the situation in Europe but on Europe's influence in the world. A new awareness is beginning to emerge, but this process needs to be encouraged.

4.14. We thank the Episcopal Conferences and ecclesial organizations that are working in Europe to recover hope for the future as they promote faith in human life, which is the gift of the Lord of Life.

4.15. Speaking to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 8 October 1988, Pope John Paul II said: "There is a real danger of the family's destabilization and break-up. The declining demographic charts are a sign of a disturbing family crisis. In this situation Europeans must recapture and restore to the family its value as the first element of social life. May they be able to create conditions which favour its stability, which allow it to accept and give life generously!".

4.16. Therefore, notwithstanding the difficult situation, it is our hope that, as the future of Europe passes through the family, so the sterile pessimism of the "demographic winter" can gradually be transformed into a spring of growth, confidence and hope.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
6 November 1996

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