[MGSA-L] Greece's Dismal Demographics

June Samaras june.samaras at gmail.com
Mon Dec 9 18:50:55 PST 2013


Greece's Dismal Demographics
Published: December 9, 2013

ATHENS — The Greeks are in a struggle for survival. And the odds are piling
up against us. The fight is not only on the economic front, as we try to
meet our commitments under an international 240-billion-euro bailout deal
that has resulted in greatly reduced incomes, higher costs and taxes, and
an overriding sense of insecurity. The danger is even more basic: Deaths
are outnumbering births, people are leaving the country, and the population
is aging so fast that in a few decades Greece may be unable to produce
enough wealth to take care of its people and may cease to be a viable
nation state.

“People tend to overlook the importance of the population, even though
everything begins with it,” says Michalis Papadakis, professor emeritus of
statistics and social security at the University of Piraeus, who has spent
his life studying the issue. “Demographic reduction undermines defense
capabilities, it cuts down the work force and obstructs business.”

He noted that 2011 was the first year in which the number of Greece’s
residents dropped (with deaths exceeding births by 4,671). According to the
European Union’s statistical service, in 2012 deaths in Greece outnumbered
births by 16,300, while 44,200 more people left the country than moved to

Many European Union countries face a similar demographic problem and the
Union as a whole is aging fast. But whereas European Union and national
officials are looking for ways to deal with an aging population, in Greece
the battle for economic survival is so overwhelming that no one has time
for the bigger picture. In the urge to cut spending and stop borrowing, the
Greeks have not been able to do the things that might have encouraged
people to have children.

For instance, other countries — wealthy Germany, for one — are focusing on
boosting youth employment, keeping people in the work force beyond today’s
retirement age, and finding ways to balance commitments to family and work.
But in Greece, even though the retirement age was raised to 67 from 65,
efforts to cut down public and private sector employees over the past three
years have pushed an estimated 150,000 people into retirement before their
time (for a total of some 2.7 million pensioners). Unemployment is at 27.3
percent (1.4 million people), with over 60 percent of those under 24
without jobs. Those who do have work are getting less pay and facing higher
taxes — and they don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Even immigrants from
Bangladesh and Pakistan, who came seeking a better life, are moving on.

In 2012, the number of employed people in Greece was 3.8 million, while
pensioners and the unemployed totaled 4.1 million, out of a population of
11,062,500. Fewer and fewer people are shouldering the burden of keeping
the country on its feet. The 25 percent drop in Greece’s gross domestic
product since 2008 reflects the reduction in people’s incomes as well as
the state’s need to get as much out of them as possible, leaving few with
disposable income, and forcing others to draw on their savings to meet
their obligations.

Several European countries face challenges posed by their citizens’ living
longer, having fewer children and moving abroad. It is not just countries
plagued by high debt, like Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain, that
are suffering. The problem of higher medical and pension costs for an aging
population is a product of widespread prosperity and high standards of
health and social security — joys that countries like Greece discovered
only after joining the European Union. In Ireland, a high rate of
emigration in 2012 was offset by a high birthrate. Elsewhere, immigration
offset low birthrates. In Greece, though, an already low birthrate and
emigration, including highly skilled graduates like doctors and engineers,
resulted in a drop in population.

Mr. Papadakis, the demographer, says that though there is no reported
research on this yet, there is a trend toward people marrying later and
then delaying having their first child. The most recent Greek statistical
service figures show the number of weddings dropping from 59,212 in 2009
(the year in which the impact of the crisis first became evident) to 55,099
in 2011.

Marilena Kapidaki, an obstetrician, says that among her clients, people who
married usually decided to have children but appeared to be limiting
themselves to one child. “I would not be surprised if the fertility rate
has dropped even further during the crisis,” she says. The latest
statistics, from 2011, showed a fertility rate of 1.4 in Greece, well below
the 2.1 needed to replenish the previous generation. “A lot has changed
since 2010,” Dr. Kapidaki says.

Even without statistical confirmation, the trend is evident. Some maternity
hospitals have shut down wings and turned them over to other medical
specialties, while many schools in the provinces and on the islands have
only a handful of students. In village after village, the elderly outnumber
locals and immigrants of working age.

The most frightening figure is a Eurostat projection which estimates that,
in 2050, 32.1 percent of the Greek population will be over 65, compared
with 16.6 percent in 2000. And this projection was made in 2007, before the
crisis hit Greece’s population. We were still living high, before
widespread unemployment, hasty retirement and the emigration of those with
the skills to succeed abroad. New projections will most likely be much

And yet, Greece has two mighty reasons for hope. It has a dynamic and
prospering diaspora, mainly in the United States and Australia; and its
European Union membership is a pillar of support today but, with its open
borders, also a potential source of immigration. If we in Greece can hold
the country steady through the crisis, and work toward optimism and
opportunity for ourselves, then people will come.

Nikos Konstandaras is the managing editor and a columnist at the newspaper

June Samaras
2020 Old Station Rd
Canada L5M 2V1
Tel : 905-542-1877
E-mail : june.samaras at gmail.com
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