Kristijan Fidanovski is an economist at wiiw and a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention.
Europe by the Numbers

Turning Demographic Change into an Opportunity

How to deal with population aging and decline will continue to occupy the governments and societies in Central and Eastern Europe. Their answers will not only shape the well-being of the region but also its role in the Europe of tomorrow.

In 2024, one would be hard-pressed to think of more European topics than demographic change. In a world that is still gaining people, European populations have seen their size stabilise and their age structure become older sooner and faster than most other regions. One might be tempted to view Europe’s demographic reality as a victim of — and future obstacle to — its own economic success and societal progress. Europeans have achieved some of the longest life expectancies on the planet, but they are now registering some of the lowest birth rates. This disparity raises a wide range of questions about the future sustainability of pensions, healthcare, and overall living standards in increasingly aging societies. Nowhere are these concerns more pressing than in Central and Eastern Europe.

Nine of the 10 countries projected to lose the largest share of citizens globally by 2050, and the only five worldwide where such declines will likely amount to more than a fifth of their populations, are in Central and Eastern Europe.

So, should Central and East European countries be worried? The unsatisfyingly ambiguous answer is: yes, but both less and more so than their Western counterparts. The demographic reality is bleaker not only compared to the situation in Western Europe but also to anywhere else in the world. The good news is that the window for policy responses through mitigation or adaptation, and ideally both, is still open. But it is narrowing faster than policymakers would like.

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