Fact: Migrants get older like everyone else

Number: 4
Year: 2023
Author(s): Jakub Bijak

While migration can relieve short-term labour market pressures and keep population from declining, it can never be a sustainable long-term approach to managing population ageing.

 

Myth: "A increase in migration will solve Europe's challenge with its ageing population."
Fact: Migrants get older like everyone else.

 

It is true that migrants who move for work are typically young and economically active, so they are indeed able to fill labour market gaps. It is therefore tempting to think that migration can solve many challenges of tomorrow’s societies: that it will counter population ageing, reverse labour force decline, and make social security systems more resilient.

However, policies based on this simple assumption would be short-sighted. Migrants who are young and able to work now will also age and might need support later in life. Demographic projections strongly suggest that this would generate an ever-increasing demand for more migration.

This fact was acknowledged as early as 2000 in a UN report [1]: Even high-scale migration events are not expected to alter these long-term trends [2].

So, what to do instead? Migration alone cannot change the nature of population dynamics. At least not without any changes to the current trends of falling birth rates. Yet designing effective policies to raise birth rates is notoriously difficult, and results have been shown to be limited [3].

It is instead vital to understand that the challenges of demographic ageing cannot be solved simply by looking at population processes. By coupling demographic projections with insights from other areas, research has already identified promising, more durable solutions: increasing labour force participation, raising productivity through automation, and adjusting retirement age to match gains in longevity, to name just a few [4].

In sum, resilient strategies to manage the effects of populations that are getting older need to include a whole range of social, environmental and economic tools - ideally based on a broad political consensus.

Jakub Bijak, University of Southampton

 

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[1] The mentioned UN report from 2000 is archived here

[2] Try the QuantMig Project’s “Migration Scenarios Explorer”

[3] See this extensive study of the impact of family policies on fertility in industrialised countries

[4] Read about simulated effects of labour market policies here

Keywords: migration, migrants, labour market, ageing