LUXEMBOURG, Mon Apr 11, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A study produced by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, reveals that between 2003 and 2009 the average fertility rate of the twenty-seven countries making up the EU rose from 1.47 children per woman, to a level of 1.60.

However, the fertility rate remains well below the replacement level of 2.1, which is the average number of children per woman needed to keep the population size constant in the absence of migration flows.

The “Third Demography Report,” published on April 1, 2011, found that about 5 million children are born each year in the EU, and about 2 million people immigrate from outside countries. While births currently outnumber deaths by a small amount, the rapid aging of the population will require a larger inflow of immigrants to prevent the size of the population from shrinking in the future.

The report notes that in 4 countries - Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia and Romania - the population is already decreasing due to a combination of more deaths than births, and emigration.

The report observed that by 2014 the working age population of the EU will start to shrink rapidly as the baby-boom generations from the post World War II period begin to retire.

The proportion of the population aged 65 and over is projected to increase from 17.4% in 2010 to 30.0 % in 2060, resulting in a growing imbalance between people of working age, between 19 and 65, and those they support.

In 2010 the EU had about three people of working age for every two dependent people. By 2060 Eurostat forecasts that there will be about a one-to-one ratio of working age people to dependent people aged under 19 or over 65 years in the EU-27.

The current EU population of half a billion includes 32.4 million foreigners - 6.5% of the total population. Of those, 12.3 million were EU27 nationals living in another Member State and 20.1 million were citizens from a non-EU27 country.

In 2010, the largest numbers of foreign citizens were recorded in Germany (7.1 million persons), Spain (5.7 million), the United Kingdom (4.4 million), Italy (4.2 million) and France (3.8 million). Almost 80% of the foreign citizens in the EU27 lived in these five Member States.

While the report speculates that fertility might continue to increase marginally, possibly to just over 1.7 children per woman, population stability will depend on immigration.

The Member States with the highest fertility rates were Ireland (2.07), France (2.00), the United Kingdom (1.96 in 2008) and Sweden (1.94), all approaching the replacement level of 2.1.

The lowest rates were observed in Latvia (1.31), Hungary and Portugal (both 1.32) and Germany (1.36).

The largest increases in birth rate over the period of the study were observed in Bulgaria (from 1.23 children per woman in 2003 to 1.57 in 2009), Slovenia (from 1.20 to 1.53), the Czech Republic (from 1.18 to 1.49) and Lithuania (from 1.26 to 1.55).

Life expectancy has increased in all Member States over the last 50 years by an average of 10 years for both women and men, to reach 82.4 years for women and 76.4 years for men in 2008.

The study also reported that the mean age of women at first childbirth has risen significantly over the course of the last three decades. The highest age at first childbirth in 2009 was in Ireland, at 31.2 years. Italy followed at 31.1. The lowest was in Bulgaria at 26.6, followed by Romania at 26.9. In 13 of the 27 EU countries women tended to have their children when they were aged 30 or over.

The report concludes that an aging population, low fertility rates, increasing life expectancy, and continuing high immigration will present the EU with a serious demographic challenge.

An abstract of the Eurostat report with a link to the full text is available here.