How will the population in mountain communities evolve until 2050? How will age groups be distributed in the coming decades? Will demographic trends be the same in all mountainous regions? These were among the questions recently answered in the Joint Research Centre study “The Demographic Landscape of EU Territories”.
« Ageing is at the heart of the challenges facing mountain areas »
Like in other rural areas, ageing in mountainous regions is explained by other demographic challenges such as population decline, and even depopulation, and low population density. Yet, the study also stresses that altitude, lack of services like transport and remoteness are additional factors which, in the mountains, lead to a loss of attractiveness and thus an ageing population. These elements explain that mountain areas in the EU host on average a higher proportion of older adults than other territories.
Based on the demographic forecasts, the study expects Greece, Cyprus, Sweden and Portugal to be in the future the countries with the highest proportions of elderly population in mountainous areas in the EU. The transformation for some regions will be especially challenging, like in Slovakia where the population above 65 in mountain areas is expected to almost double by 2050 or in Poland, Slovenia, Austria and Spain, where the ageing population will increase by more than 60% in mountain areas. Only a few mountainous regions are foreseen to see their senior population decrease, such as South-East France, Finland and in some parts of the Balkans.
If the gap between mountainous and non-mountainous areas is foreseen to shrink from 2030, mountain areas will in any case be confronted with ageing. With an increase of older adults from 21% in 2011 to 30% in 2050, mountain areas will have to develop targeted policies in the coming decades in order to address the specific needs of older generations.
Younger generations on the move?
The study also reports on the foreseen evolutions of the working population and the youth. Trends expect France, Finland and Poland to register the highest proportions of children (under 15) in mountainous areas. In countries like Slovakia, Poland, and Romania, it is also foreseen that the working population (15-64) in mountainous areas will be above the EU average.
However, if some mountain areas will maintain a relatively stable population, most countries are expected to be affected by population decline in the coming decades. Population decline in mountain areas is foreseen to concern both children and the working age population. The trend will in particular be important in Southern countries (Portugal, Croatia, Greece, Southern Italy and Sardinia), Slovakia, at the border between Slovenia and Austria and in the Southern Carpathians in Romania and the Rhodopes mountains in Bulgaria.
How to cope with these demographic challenges?
Population decline and ageing will globally affect all mountain areas in Europe, with different degrees as previously mentioned. Yet, there are solutions to address demographic changes in our regions.
As mentioned in the JRC study, the European Parliament adopted in 2018 a resolution on the specific needs of rural, mountainous and remote areas, which demonstrated that a balanced and sustainable development in mountain areas offers the possibility to turn challenges into opportunities with adequate policy attention. In particular, the resolution called for a real European Agenda for these regions, building on the opportunities offered by Smart Villages, innovation, and tourism to counterbalance demographic dynamics and natural assets. Euromontana can only hope that the Communication on the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas, expected by June 2021, will provide adequate solutions to overcome these challenges.
Moreover, the Silver Economy can help mountainous areas to cope with ageing by providing adapted goods and services to older adults. As reminded by the authors of the study, not only this sector can enhance healthy and active ageing in our regions, but it can also encourage business creation and contribute to attracting the working age population. This is why Euromontana is currently involved in the Interreg Europe SILVER SMEs project, which aims to improve regional policies supporting the development of the Silver Economy in rural and mountainous areas. Discover in SILVER SMEs’ 3 thematic best practices brochures how the Silver Economy can improve seniors’ housing and well-being and how regional policies can better support this economic sector.24 February 2021