By 2050, Greece’s population is expected to shrink by 800,000 to 2.5 million people to between 8.3 and 10 million, and one in three of its residents will be over the age of 65 (30-33 percent compared to the present 21 percent and 7 percent in 1951), while under-14s will represent just 12-14.8 percent from 15 percent today and 28 percent in 1951.
This dystopian view of the country – with empty schools and offices – emerges from a recent study on Greece’s demographic prospects, presented by the Athens-based Dianeosis research organization.
The study explored eight different scenarios, all of which calculated a significant drop in the population by 2050. The most optimistic saw a reduction of 800,000 people and the rapid aging of society. The median age is seen reaching 49-52 years from 44 today and 26 in 1951. By then, the study says, 50-year-olds will be the young ’uns.
The number of school-age children (3-17) will drop from 1.6 million today to 1.4 million in the optimistic scenario and 1 million in the pessimistic one and the economically active population will shrink from 4.7 million people today to between 3 and 3.7 million, meaning that a much lower number of people will be able to work to cover the country’s needs.
The study by Dianeosis reflects trends that are already being noted: On January 1, 2015, Greece’s population came to 10.8 million from 11.1 million in 2011, marking the first time since 1951 that the number of the country’s residents has gone down.
There are three factors that affect population fluctuations – births, deaths and migration – which can be separated into two categories, the natural process of births and deaths, and the migration factor, which includes both inflows and outflows. Today, births are decreasing and deaths going up due to sliding standards of living and a crumbling public healthcare system. Meanwhile, the outflow of mainly young Greeks and foreigners from the country is on the rise, while, despite the arrival of thousands of migrants, the crisis is preventing their numbers from being made up by fresh inflows.
The Dianeosis study was conducted by the Laboratory of Demographic and Social Analyses (LDSA) of the University of Thessaly under the supervision of Professor Byron Kotzamanis.
The data show that from 1951 to 2011, the Greek population rose from 7.7 million to 11.1 million. This was an impressive increase, even though there has been a progressive decline in fertility rates since 1956.
According to the Dianeosis study, Greece did not experience the baby boom of other Western countries in the post-World War II period and the increase in its population was due exclusively to migration flows and the rapid rise in life expectancy, which rose by eight years for men and 10 for women in that period.
From 1951 (the start of the period examined by the study as it was then that reliable data became available) until the mid-1970s, the increase in the population was attributed almost exclusively to the natural factor, meaning that there were more births than deaths. In 1951, for example, Greece saw 155,422 births and just 57,508 deaths. Balancing the large gap between the two was the fact that some 27,000 Greeks emigrated every year from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s.
From then until the late 1980s, the number of births remained high and the immigration balance was reversed as hundreds of thousands of Greek emigres returned to the country. In the 1990s and 2000s, the population rise again changed characteristics as births dropped dramatically and Greece saw an inflow of thousands of migrants, mainly from its northern neighbors. In the decade between 1991 and 2001, the natural balance was in positive territory by just 20,536 more births than deaths, but the overall increase in the population came to 563,298.
Greece entered a new phase in 2011 that is unprecedented since the end of World War II. Deaths far outnumber births and, despite the inflow of migrants and refugees, the migration balance is also negative as young professionals seek work abroad.
On January 1, 2015, the Greek population had dropped by 300,000 compared with 2011.
During the presentation of the study, Kotzamanis said that the economic crisis is expected to accelerate (and possibly in some cases reverse) the long-term evolution trends of basic demographic components. Fertility is already on the wane. Women born between 1950 and 1954 gave birth to an average of two children each and those born in 1960-64 and 1970-74 (estimate) to 1.6 children. According to the United Nations, in 2010-15, women in Greece had an average of 1.34 children.
Kotzamanis notes that women are increasingly putting off having their first child due, among other factors, to the dire economic situation. He also adds that in the years of the crisis, the average age that women decide to have their first child may be as high as 35, meaning that they have less time to have more children afterward.
Meanwhile, the crisis in the healthcare system and the drop in incomes for the majority of the population will almost certainly have a negative impact on the population’s health and longevity, the Dianeosis study warns.
It also says that as Greece becomes increasingly unattractive from an economic standpoint, even migrants who settled here years ago will be tempted to return home – as many have already done – while more and more young university graduates will continue to leave as the job market shrinks further.
The statistical analysis conducted in all eight scenarios examined in the study shows that by 2050 the population may drop to 8.3 million in the adverse scenario and 10 million in the optimistic one.
Greece, the study shows, is not only getting emptier but also older. In the past 65 years, the population has risen by 46 percent but the number of over-65s has quadrupled and the over-85s have doubled in the same period. In 1961, just 8.3 percent of the population was over 65 years old and 26.2 percent was under 14 years old. In 2014, the composition was entirely different: 20.5 percent were over 65 and just 14.7 percent were under 14.
The shrinking of the population is also highlighted by data presented by international organizations and the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), which have published projections about Greece’s demographic future.
The Vienna Institute of Demography in 2010 estimated that Greece’s population in 2050 will come to 11.7 million. In 2007, ELSTAT put the figure at 11.5 million. In 2005, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development saw it at 10.6 million and the UN put it at 9.5 million. Eurostat estimated in 2013 that Greece’s population in 2050 would come to 9.1 million. The Dianeosis study includes a detailed analysis of all the projections made by these organizations.
The researchers say that the discrepancy between the Dianeosis study and these projections lies in the fact that they used the most recent data (based on 2015 figures) and a different method of analysis. The eight scenarios developed from different combinations of analyses of fertility, mortality and immigration rates in past decades and on the basis of hypotheses on the effects of the crisis and general socioeconomic developments, something that is not the case in the studies by the other organizations cited.
The demographic trends that emerged would have a significant impact on a number of sectors. To start with, should the projections be vindicated, there could be little long-term policy planning as demographic fluctuations will impact the social security system, the labor market, education, social welfare, immigration and even defense.