I was astounded by Jim Hoag-land's column on European demography ["Europe's Gray Future," op-ed, May 2], in which he wrote about the demographic future as if he already knows how it will turn out.

In short, he thinks Europe's baby bust is permanent and more or less terminal.

This would surprise demographers in France, a country known for setting continental trends, particularly in southern Europe.

The national birthrate, which fell to just 1.4 children per woman in 1994, has jumped by more than 30 percent in the past decade to lead the European Union. The press has invariably referred to this as "le mini-baby-boom."

In 2001 alone, France enjoyed a 5 percent increase in its birthrate, to nearly 1.9 children per woman, putting it on a par with traditionally Catholic Ireland. Since then, the national rate has settled a bit, but Britain and France now share the EU lead with roughly 1.85 children born per woman, somewhat below replacement but hardly catastrophic for the future.

Contrary to the columnist's assumption, nothing is fixed about demographic trends. Social attitudes in France are now de-emphasizing salaried work with a new emphasis being put on children.

Such changes in attitudes by society and government could lead to another turn of the demographic wheel in Europe.


Ferney-Voltaire, France