Deaths Exceed Births in Most of Europe, But Not in the United States

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With the increased attention to Europe’s demographic future stimulated by the on-going immigration crisis, we present important new findings about the diminishing number of births compared to deaths in Europe and the United States from our recent article in Population and Development Review. When births fail to keep pace with deaths in a country there is a “natural” decrease in population and a substantial risk of population loss—loss that can often only be avoided by increased migration. Seventeen European nations have more people dying in them than being born, including several of Europe’s most populous countries. In contrast, in the United States, births exceed deaths by a substantial margin. See Figure 1.

Our research focuses on the prevalence and dynamics of natural decrease in subareas of Europe and the United States in the first decade of the twenty-first century using counties (United States) or county-equivalents (Europe). We find that 58 percent of the 1,391 counties of Europe had more deaths than births during that period compared to just 28 percent of the 3,137 U.S. counties. Natural decrease is often intermittent at first with deaths exceeding births in some years, but not in others. Later, it becomes more persistent. In Europe, 41 percent of the counties had more deaths than births in every year we studied; 30 percent had it in some years; and in 29 percent births always exceeded deaths. Natural decrease was far less prevalent in the United States, where 11 percent of the counties had natural decrease in each year; 35 percent in some years; and in the majority of counties (53 percent) births always exceeded deaths. See Figure 2.