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Tuesday, 21 March, 2000, 06:10 GMT
Stark choice over immigration
retirement home
Populations are getting older in many countries
By UN correspondent Mark Devenport

Substantial levels of immigration will be required in order to maintain the population levels of most developed countries over the next 50 years, according to a new United Nations report.

The report, from the UN's Population Division, says the only alternative to such immigration will be to increase the age of retirement for workers.

The report examines the likely trends over the next half century in eight countries with low fertility rates.

It finds that in Japan and virtually all European countries, populations will decline, whilst the average person will get older.

Italy is expected to register the largest decline, losing more than a quarter of its population, whilst the average Italian will be 53 years old in 2050, compared to only 41 years of age now.

Immigration

The only way for such countries to maintain their populations, the report suggests, will be to take in substantial numbers of immigrants.

In the absence of such immigration, not only will the overall level of the population in most rich countries fall but so will the ratio between those of working age and those expecting to retire.

The UN says that without immigration, richer countries might have to consider increasing the upper working limit to 75 years of age in order to maintain their present levels of pension and welfare support.

Policy questions

The UN points out that these population trends pose crucial questions for governments about what age they decide to set for retirement, what kind of benefits they wish to provide for the elderly and what policies they follow regarding immigration in the future.

The questions appear more pressing in Europe than in the United States.

According to present trends, the population of the United States is expected to grow from just under 280 million today to nearly 350 million in 2050.

By contrast, the 15 countries of the European Union account for more than 375 million people today - a level due to fall to 330m by the middle of the century.

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13 Jan 00 | Americas
US population to 'double by 2100'
22 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
World population still climbing
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