A lot has been written about Europe's shrinking population. Britain's Telegraph, for instance, once described how demographics show Europe is "slowly dying." Just this year, Arthur C. Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, predicted a "Europe in decline" because of its low birthrates.
However, new research, released by German researchers this week, reveals a far more nuanced picture of which parts of Europe have shrunk over the first decade of this century and which have grown.
Some of the data collected by Germany's federal institute for construction research offers stunning insights. The institute's map is one of the first attempts to compare demographic trends all over Europe between 2001 and 2011. Areas colored green had an average annual increase in population over that time span, and areas colored brown experienced a decline in population. In areas colored white, no significant change occurred.
These are the key findings:
These European cities are becoming more American
According to the researchers, many of Europe's largest city centers have seen their populations dwindle between 2001 and 2011 as more people moved away and birthrates went up in metropolitan areas and suburbs where housing is more affordable.
While this is a pretty common concept in the United States, it's unusual in Europe, where many city centers were historically densely populated with residential areas.
Ireland grows surprisingly fast
Compared to neighboring England, Scotland and Wales, both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have experienced a much more significant population growth between 2001 and 2011. Indeed, Ireland's fertility rate currently stands at 2.1, the highest in the European Union. (Fertility rate is the measure of how many children a woman bears on average.)
Ireland's fertility rate alone would not be sufficient to keep its population growing, though. A ratio of 2.1 is necessary for a population to maintain population levels -- and that's exactly where the country stands. Immigrants have contributed significantly to the country's positive demographic outlook.
In Spain, growth is especially notable around Madrid and at the coast
Overall, Spain's population is in decline. However, many of the Spanish regions where growth can still be observed are located in Catalonia in the east. Given Spain's recent economic woes, Catalonia's prosperity could explain some of the population growth in this area.
France's population is growing, and the trend has been especially rapid in coastal areas
France is among the few countries in Europe with a growing population, thanks to immigration and a high fertility rate. What is particularly striking about the country is its nationwide population growth.
Unlike in many other nations, France's population is expanding above E.U. average in rural areas. German researcher Volker Schmidt-Seiwert told WorldViews: "The country's excellent transport system might help explain why families deliberately decide to stay in rural areas, instead of moving into cities."
Eastern Germany's population has declined even faster than western Germany's. But as soon as you reach the Polish border, the trend is reversed.
Germany's unemployment rate made headlines when it hit a two-decade low last summer. But that rate is not evenly spread: former West German states still have far better employment levels than their eastern neighbors. That's why more young people have moved from rural eastern areas to the west, which explains the declining population in the east.
It is also worth taking a closer look at the eastern German border to Poland: Whereas Germany is in decline, only a few miles to the east, Poland is growing. "There are few border regions, where demographic trends are visible to such an extent," Schmidt-Seiwert told WorldViews.
More than in any other country, Polish city suburbs have attracted new inhabitants
A closer look at Poland reveals how the country's population growth has been concentrated around larger cities. Although the east in general has seen a decline in inhabitants, metropolitan areas have benefited, attracting more people.
Eastern Europe and the Baltic states have shrunk dramatically
With its relatively robust growth, Poland seems to be an exception in eastern Europe. Most of the population of the continent's east has shrunk between 2001 and 2011. "The demographic developments in Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania are disconcerting," Schmidt-Seiwert said.
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