These challenges include an ageing population, a shrinking working-age population and population decline more generally, as well as increasing regional disparities, including a growing urban-rural divide.
The Commission published its Staff working document “The impact of demographic change – in a changing environment” on 17 January. This report presents the drivers of demographic change and their impact across Europe, updating and developing the Demography Report issued in 2020. It discusses both firmly established long-term trends and more recent developments caused by sudden crises, such as:
- population decline, which varies significantly between different areas, but “the population in rural areas of Europe is already older, on average, than the population in towns, cities and suburbs. Certain regions of Eastern and Southern Member States are even confronted with both challenges: natural declines in population combined with net movement away from rural regions. Moreover, young women are more likely to leave rural regions than young men. These demographic trends are coupled with a lack of connectivity, poor infrastructure, productivity challenges, and low access to public services including education and care, and indicative of the lower attractiveness of these rural areas as places to live and work.”
- the share of young people, which is decreasing in the EU and whose trend is expected to continue and to become even more pronounced in rural regions (s. the Eurostat ‘Statistics Explained’ article on population projections at regional level).
- trends on the labour market, as the digital transition and the possibility to work from home, have the potential to enable people to work remotely. Remote or hybrid working combined with other tools (such as better provision of e-services – and eHealth in particular), could improve the quality of life of people in rural and remote regions.
- the COVID-19 pandemic, which may have encouraged more people to move from predominantly urban to rural areas due to the widespread possibility of working from home, and may have accelerated the “counter-urbanisation” trend, experienced in several countries in recent years.
This could have significant consequences on transport and commuting systems, housing prices, and the provision of services in rural areas, leading to changing population structures in more remote areas with environmental and resource-use impacts. The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on counter-urbanisation has been apparent in Austria, Italy and Spain, albeit at slightly different paces. It remains to be seen whether this trend of counter-urbanisation will continue.
The report concludes that while Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine have had a clear impact on established demographic trends, it seems that at least some long-term demographic trends are re-establishing themselves.
Read out more about targeted solutions in the Communication on Harnessing talent in Europe’s regions.
- Publication date
- 22 January 2023
- Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development | Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy