By Hilary White

May 22, 2009 ( – A report by Spain’s Institute for Family Policy says that Spain, with one of the western world’s lowest birth rates and a high average life expectancy, is now the most rapidly aging country in the European Union.

The Institute’s head, Eduardo Hertfelder, told media that the government’s “dreadful” contraceptive policies are having a “catastrophic effect.”

The report says that the Spanish youth population has dropped from 10 million in 1981 to 6.6 million in 2008. The process of population aging follows Spain’s precipitous drop in birth rates. In 2000, a UN report found that the Spanish birth rate was the lowest in the world with 1.07 children per woman. Hertfelder stressed that the Spanish population is being bolstered now only by increases in immigration.

In Spain, the median age of women is 42.5 years; most physicians say that conception becomes increasingly less likely after age 35.

While the country’s fertility rate remains one of the lowest in the world at 1.31 children per woman, the socialist Spanish government announced earlier this year its plans to loosen the law to allow abortion on demand during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.

The loss of young people, aging of the population and impending impact of this demographic implosion on the economy, is not limited to Spain. A report published in April by the European Commission said that the working-age population of Europe will peak next year and begin to decline.

The EC report said that by 2060 Europe will have 2 people of working age for every person aged over 65, compared to 4 people of working age currently. Europe now has some of the world’s most generous government-sponsored pension and welfare plans that will be directly affected by the anticipated drop in population.

Referring to it as the “inverted pyramid” effect, demographers believe that a 1.3 fertility rate is all but impossible to correct and inevitably leads to a drop in population. With below-replacement fertility – that is, with two sets of parents producing only one child each generation – the number of children born is halved in each successive generation, resulting in dramatic decreases in the working-age population in twenty five years.

It has been widely noted that many of Europe’s predominantly Catholic nations seem to be particularly hard-hit by the demographic plunge. According to statistics available from the CIA World Fact Book, Portugal, with a Catholic population of 84.5 percent, has a birth rate of 1.49 children born per woman and a median female age of 41.6 years. Italy’s birth rate is 1.31 children per woman with a median female age of 44.8 years and the population is 90 percent Catholic. Poland’s birth rate stands at 1.28 children per woman and the median female age is 39.7 years.

Around the world, the industrialised nations are all conforming to this pattern to varying degrees, with only the US currently maintaining close to a replacement-level birth rate of 2.05 children born per woman. Outside Europe, at 1.8 children per woman Australia has one of the highest birth rates, with China (1.79), Canada (1.58), Japan (1.21), South Korea (1.21) lagging far behind.

In many cases, the trend of falling birth rates and aging populations is not a new phenomenon. In Japan, now with one of the world’s lowest birth rates, following its post-war baby boom the birth rate had fallen 50 percent by 1960.

In 2008, the UN Development Programme called the continued depopulation of Russia one of the country’s “most severe challenges” that had been ongoing for forty years. The report said, “Beginning from 1992, mortality in Russia has consistently exceeded fertility.”

With the median ages of women in these countries rising, continued promotion by many national governments of population control measures such as free abortion and contraceptives, demographers are increasingly warning that the prospect of population recovery is remote.