It is false to argue that Greece is dying demographically because of austerity (although it certainly has not helped). For many years after the civil war in the 1980s, Greek demographic values were among the highest of all other European countries, 2.2 children per woman. Then, after 1994, the birth rate stopped at 1.3 children.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal last week, Yannis Palaiologos, a journalist from Ekhatimerini, says that according to a study by the University of Thessaly there will be a reduction of about 25 percent in the Greek population by 2050. Even more worrying is the forecast of the country's statistical agency (Elstat), according to which by 2080 the population of the country could fall to 7.2 million.
The alarm is also raised in a study entitled "The Greek population under siege", written by Ira Emke-Poulopoulos, professor of the University of Paris, member of the Academy of Sciences of New York and vice president of the Hellenic Society for Demographic Studies. The population of Greece will continue to decline steadily “until the middle of the century,” according to another study by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development.
Births in public hospitals have, meanwhile, dropped by 30 percent. Greece has become a world leader in abortion.
Only Italy has a higher percentage of older people. But German researchers predict that, based on the demographic trends in place so far, Greece will have the worst proportion of workers compared to the number of retired people across Europe by 2050. Melbourne, with 300.000 Greeks, is already today the third Greek city in the world, after Athens and Thessaloniki.
About 20 percent of Greek women born in the seventies will remain childless, “a level never seen since World War II” according to the Wittgenstein Center for Demography and Global Human Capital, based in Vienna. Not only that, but the number of abortions performed in Greece has increased by 50 percent since the beginning of the economic crisis. Births in public hospitals have, meanwhile, dropped by 30 percent. Greece has become a world leader in abortion. Ten years ago, there were 200,000 abortions per year in a population of eleven million, while today this figure has risen to 300,000.
“Greece in 2050: a country of old men”, the Ekatimerini newspaper claimed. Children under 14 years od age represent today only 12 percent of the population, less than half of that 28 percent they were in 1951.
It is as if the country is living in a déjà vu.
“In our time,” wrote the Greek historian Polybius around 150 BC, “all of Greece has been characterized by a reduction in the birth rate and by a general decrease in population, due to which cities have become deserted and the countryside has stopped giving crops”. The reason, according to Polybius, was the decadence: “The men had fallen into such a state of indolence that they no longer wanted to get married, and if they married they did not want to have children, or at most make one or two ...”.
It is no coincidence that the three European countries considered at risk of default in the present period- Italy, Greece and Portugal - are also those most overwhelmed by the demographic winter. But to get out of this crisis there does not seem to be any bailout to be found.