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There is no crystal ball – but a glimpse into the future is still possible: thanks to demographic research. 4 February, Demography Day, draws attention to the importance of this discipline.
Dubravka Šuica, European Commission Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, says: “I am convinced that demographic change should be viewed as the third key transition that Europe, and indeed the world, is experiencing, alongside the green and the digital transitions. Demographic change and the challenges that it poses, are a factor throughout the life-cycle. When demography is factored into all our work, our policies will be more successful, impactful and sustainable in the long-term, to the benefit of our citizens.”
Demography shows trends, for example how the population is composed according to age, gender, marital status, origin, education or health. The scientists also analyse why this composition is changing and what this means for our coexistence and individual life courses.
How population trends and life choices interact
This knowledge is also relevant for every individual. Young people, in particular, are faced with decisions that shape their entire lives: Do I want to start a family and if so, when? Do I want to move out and if so, where and how do I want to live? The answers to questions like these influence how each individual's life turns out - along with other factors such as opportunities in education and the labour market.
‘John Graunt, widely regarded as the father of demography, developed methods to repurpose existing data to learn from the past and to imagine the future’, says Emilio Zagheni, managing director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock. Graunt completed his study "Natural and Political Observations [...] made upon the Bills of Mortality" on 4 February 1662 (according to today’s dating), in which he analysed the mortality figures of Londoners during an epidemic – just as researchers nowadays examine mortality rates to better understand the influence of Covid19.
Zagheni adds: ‘Today, demographers all over the world triangulate established sources, as well as new data to identify the factors that promote sustainable and equitable well-being, to assess how choices affect current and future generations, and to understand what makes populations resilient in the face of crises. Demography creates a bridge that connects our individual life trajectories with population-level outcomes to guide us towards a more predictable future.’
Research findings can help society to prepare for the future
For example, access to early childhood education and care has a significant influence on educational attainment, income and health in later years, as well as on the ability and willingness to continue education for a longer period of life. But we are also laying the foundation for the successful integration of people who have fled or migrated to Germany.
‘Looking at the level of society as a whole, I have great hope that the Corona pandemic has made it clear how essential family life is for a society,’ says C. Katharina Spieß, Director of the Federal Institute for Population Research. ‘Overall, it is crucial that in the future there is even more focus on the importance of families, all their members and their well-being.’
The activities to mark this first Demography Day are not limited to 4 February: another event is the Berlin Demography Days (16-18 May), which this year will focus on the demographic perspectives of young people.
Population Europe: Dr. Andreas Edel (email@example.com, +49 30 2061 38331)
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