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Expert: More births, immigration the only remedies for Finland’s shrinking working-age cohort

If the birth rate continues to decline Finland will face the prospect of a continually-shrinking working age population, new data suggest.

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Image: Jari Kovalainen / Yle

During 2018, Finland is projected to see more deaths than births for the third consecutive year, Statistics Finland reported on Friday.

The birth rate will continue to decline for the eighth year running and the number of deaths will increase despite longer life expectancy, according to the state data agency's forecast.

In 2010, the average number of births per woman in Finland was 1.87, compared to an average of 1.49 children per woman in 2017 -- the lowest level in Finnish history. The overall fertility rate in 2018 is expected to decline to 1.43 and the last time that the birth rate declined as much in consecutive years was in the 1960s.

Under-15s also in decline

New population forecasts indicate that Finland will have 760,000 under 15-year-olds by the year 2030, if birth rates remain at their current level.

However the data released on Friday indicated that the number of youngsters who call Finland home will plunge to less than 700,000 by the year 2050.

"This will be the situation if nothing changes. If we come up with ways to increase the birth rate then this projection will not hold," said Statistics Finland population structure and forecasting specialist Markus Rapo.

"On the other hand, if the birth rate remains at a low level, that would have a major impact," he added.

The last time Finland had so few under-15s was at the end of the 1870s when the total population was less than two million. During the 1970s however, the number of children in this age group came in at around one million.

Migration a major factor

Net immigration will maintain the population until the year 2035, when the number of people living in Finland is expected to be 5.6 million. However the population will start to fall after this point and will be lower than the current 5.5 million souls in the 2050s.

The agency’s statisticians cited the self-sufficiency ratio, which describes a situation in which there is no immigration or emigration. In this case the birth and death rates would influence the age structure of the population and the number of working age people would decrease by 217,000 persons by the year 2030 and by 630,000 by 2050.

Rapo noted that migration has a major impact on the forecast. Statisticians have calculated that immigration would add about 15,000 persons annually to the population.

"If there is no migration and the current population continued living in Finland, the working age population would fall by 430,000 in 30 years," Rapo explained. "Of course if the number of births increased, then the impact would not be so big," he added.

Delay in effect of birth rate on working age population

During the past eight years, Finland’s working age population has shrunk by more than 100,000. New projections indicate that by 2030, the number of working age adults will decline by 57,000 compared to today.

By 2050, the working age population will be some 200,000 people smaller than today. At that time 15 – 64-year-olds will account for 58 percent of the total population compared to 62 percent currently.

Dependency ratio to weaken more slowly than expected

At the end of 2017, the ration of persons under the age of 15 and over the age of 65 to 100 working age people was 60. This is known as the dependency ratio, a measure of the pressure to pay taxes and fund services that is placed on the productive population.

Statistics Finland projected that the dependency ration will rise in the decades to come, but more slowly than originally expected.

"As fewer children are born, in the short term it will mean fewer children to care for," Rapo pointed out.

However the statistician said that the situation will worsen if the birth rate remains low for more than 50 years.

"Over time younger age groups will reach working age, at which point the dependency ratio will deteriorate more than previously estimated."

The data predicted that the dependency ratio in 2020 will be 62, 66 in 2030, 71 in 2050 and 81 by 2070.

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