An analysis of the demographic change and of the migration balances taking place in smaller regional areas (NUTS-level 3, comparable to the districts (Kreise) in Germany) shows that even in countries which still have a positive population balance overall, the population in specific regions may already be shrinking (see Chart 7). Negative population balances (presented with a dotted fill pattern in the map) extend from Greece in the South through wide regions of Eastern Europe and the Baltic states through the peripheral regions in Finland and the north of Sweden. A population decline can also be seen in peripheral regions in southern Italy and on the Iberian Peninsula, in some regions in central France and the Ardennes, as well as on the British west coast. Furthermore, due to low fertility levels and already pronounced demographic aging, large parts of Germany and Austria are also affected.
Winners and Losers
These regional differences are constituted by the variations in both natural population balances and migration balances, the latter including not only foreign migration, but also the often more relevant inter-regional migration within a country. The map presents the combination of these indicators according to four groups: positive natural balance and positive migration balance (highlighted in green), negative natural balance and negative migration balance (highlighted in red), positive natural balance and negative migration balance (highlighted in dark pink), and negative natural balance and positive migration balance (highlighted in light pink).
If one compares the spatial distribution of the regions with a negative natural balance (light pink and red) to the total fertility rates, the life expectancies at birth, and the age structures of the populations, which could not be shown here, it becomes clear that the regional differences of fertility and life expectancy within the individual countries are relatively small (with the exception of Turkey). These alone cannot completely explain the differences in natural population development. However, low or negative natural balances do correlate with an above-average proportion of older people in the general population. What also plays a role in this development is the effect of long-lasting emigration of young people in the past.
Regions with positive natural balances are usually in countries where the fertility is generally relatively high or where the decline of births had started late. Also the regions which had had above average immigration of young people in the past show an especially positive natural population development.
Analyzing the regional migration patterns, two general trends with positive migration balances (green and light pink) become apparent. The main areas able to profit from immigration have been the urban regions with a high population density and the regions in their direct vicinity. One exception is France as well as some parts of Scandinavia. In France, the migrants mainly tend to move to the South and the West, and the rural areas benefit from this. In Scandinavia net immigration per 1,000 residents is mainly to be found in regions with a very low population density.
Net emigration (red and dark pink) is mostly focused in regions with low economic strength and high unemployment, as is the case in almost all of Eastern Europe. In Germany, one can observe that neighboring regions can often develop very different immigration gains and losses. The map clearly shows the immigration winners (light pink) to be the urban centers and the surrounding regions (Hamburg, Berlin, Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region, Upper Rhine/Rhine-Main, Munich), as well as some of the mid-size cities. The rural and in particular the peripheral districts, especially in eastern Germany and in the central highlands regions in the West suffered from emigration (red).
The people who migrate to economically attractive regions are generally younger people with an above-average education; this also applies to foreign and domestic migration. Thus, immigration not only contributes to intensifying economic differences. The immigration and emigration of young women also strengthens the spatial differences for the natural population development in the mid-term. If population aging and decline, together with low population density, lead to worse future prospects for employment and quality of life, then this could develop into a push-factor contributing to further emigration. In short, migration processes tend to intensify the already existing demographic and economic disparities among the various regions.
Regional planning and regional development have aimed thus far to prevent further diverging trends among these regions. However, the question facing Germany in the future will be whether or not the established regional planning concepts will still be useful in dealing with the described future population processes of aging and declining populations in an increasing number of regions. With its high birth deficit, Germany is a forerunner in this general European trend; this map only captures a snapshot in this process.
If the birth rates in the European regions remain low in the future, then the decline in natural population balances will lead to birth deficits in ever more regions. This means that immigration gains will be of growing importance for all regions in the long-term. While there is already an increasing competition among several countries for highly qualified workers, it can be expected that the competition for young and educated immigrants will also intensify among the different regions within countries. The spatial component will therefore play an especially critical role in coping with the challenges of demographic change in Europe.
This text is part of the policy brief on
Frank Swiaczny is senior research fellow at the Federal Institute for Population Research in Wiesbaden and managing editor of Comparative Population Studies. From 2000 till 2012 he was head of the research group Migration-Integration-Minorities of the German Demographic Society (DGD). At the Federal Institute for Population Research he is responsible for research and policy advice on demography and world population issues. His focus of work also covers, inter alia, population geography and migration studies.
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