The population of the European Union (EU) has slid down by more than half a million people since 2020, according to the number crunchers at its statistical arm Eurostat — a striking inflection point after decades of growth.
The causes of the decline are various, but the basic issue is that more people are dying and fewer babies are being born. And at the crux of the two is the brutal and still-lingering COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused millions of deaths in Europe alone, especially among older people, while keeping many younger folks stuck indoors instead of going out and meeting each other. And that’s without getting into increased economic anxiety among couples that do get together, leading many to hold off or skip kids entirely.
In January 2020, there were 447.49 million in the EU (it’s fair to note, by the way, that Europe isn’t synonymous with the EU, though it does account for a broad majority of its population). By 2021, that figure was down to 447 million, and the next year it was just 446.74 million. That’s a total shrinkage of 585,000 people.
It’s hard to overstate the impact of COVID. Eurostat has reported large waves of “excess mortality” — more deaths than you’d expect over a given period, basically, which is a strong proxy for deaths from a novel pandemic — since 2020.
Before COVID, the EU had swelled modestly, with the total population hiking up from 429.24 million in 2001 to 447.49 million in 2020, for an increase of around 4 percent, until COVID carved a deathly wave through the continent.
In a sense, Europe’s falling head count is almost certainly a preview of what’s to come for the rest of the world. Though demographers used to fear rampant overpopulation, projections now suggest that global population growth will have largely leveled off by around 2100 before starting to fall, likely forever. China’s population, for instance, fell for the first time since the 1960s last year.
Whether that unprecedented global thinning will lead to prosperity or economic crisis is anyone’s guess. Ominously, there’s certainly evidence for the latter: though many in Europe have called for welcoming immigrants to offset the falling population, many others have been ossified into bitterly anti-immigration movements.