Who has the courage to face Portugal's demographic problem?

Who has the courage to face Portugal's demographic problem?


If we do not counteract current trends, in a few decades we will no longer have sufficient resources to guarantee good living conditions for the population.

When Camões wrote in "The Lusiads" in 1572: "For I sing of the illustrious Lusitanian spirit, That Mars and Neptune equally obeyed," he spoke on behalf of 1.3 million people. When Eça de Queiroz wrote in 1871 that "The country lost its intelligence and moral conscience" and that "we all lived at random," he was referring to 4.5 million people.

In 2010, when Valter Hugo Mãe published "The Spanish Making Machine," a book in which the aging of the Portuguese population is portrayed, the country reached its population summit: 10.6 million. But from that moment it all started going downwards. Portugal currently has 10.3 million people. And the base of the mountain is still far away.

The numbers are often cold. These Arab mathematical concepts that are used to represent quantity stimulate our best analytical ability, but are often incapable of igniting emotions. This is how we react every time another warning about the demographic crisis in our country is made - with detachment. But if we analyze Pordata's demographic data, it is clear the future doesn't look bright. Between 1960 and 2017:

- The average number of children decreased from 3.2 to 1.4 - well below 2.1, the minimum limit for the renewal of generations.

- The average age of the mother at the birth of the first child rose from 25 to 30 years.

- Life expectancy at birth rose from 67 to 81 years.

- The aging index - the number of people aged 65 and over per 100 people under the age of 15 years - went from 28% to 153%.

- Emigration continues to be the natural destination of many of those born in Portugal. In 2017, after the crisis of austerity, more young people emigrated than in 1964, when people started going to Central Europe.

If Portugal's planning ability continues to be deficient, it will miss out on an inescapable truth. Portugal has a demographic problem to deal with. The decline in the birth rate and the continued emigration of the Portuguese youth will turn Portugal into the second oldest country in the European Union, behind Greece (data from the Berlin Institute for Population and Development) by the end of the century.

According to INE estimates, in 2080 there will be only 7.5 million people living in Portugal. This means that the country will no longer have the financial means to ensure good living conditions for its population.

The imbalance between the number of older people and the number of existing active citizens will continue to deepen. This will increase aging-related public spending, should increase national debt, will make the social security system unsustainable, will reduce the weight of innovation in the national economy, and should reduce productivity. The weight of the elderly in the economy may also lead to intergenerational social tensions and to the breakdown of consensus.

The next government needs to lay the groundwork for a national strategy to combat the demographic crisis. As this is a problem that runs through the various ministries - from Economy to Health, from Finance to Labor - each ministry should contribute in its on sector and with a long-term vision for the country.

Many other developed countries face the same problem, but not with the same lack of ideas. Let's look at South Korea. After a study commissioned by the Parliament showed that if the demographic trends were maintained, South Koreans would disappear from the planet in 2750, the government accelerated several initiatives to reverse the problem. A few months ago, it announced a €240 family support for couples who had more than one child. Besides that, parents with children under 8 years can work fewer hours and paternity leave was increased to 10 days (previously it was only 3). Since 2005, the country invested €108 billion.

In Japan, the goal is to reach a 1.8 birth rate by 2025 (currently it is 1.4). And the municipalities have made initiatives to achieve these goals. In the city of Ama, on the island of Nakanoshima, parents receive 100.000 yen (about €800) for the first child and 1 million yen (about €8.000) for the fourth child.

Singapore and Canada invest in attracting immigrants. In the United States, the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship has taken all financial and social security studies to justify the national goal of attracting 1 million immigrants by 2021. Last year alone there were 303 thousand. And Canadian embassies play a central role on locally activating interest in the country and facilitating the logistics of travel.

Spain follows a similar path. It studied, studied, studied. Symbolically, in 2017, the then Prime Minister Rajoy appointed a National Commissioner for the Demographic Challenge, Edelmira Barreira.

António Costa has publicly said that the country "needs immigration" to restore the migratory balance, while the Minister of Internal Administration has said that it is necessary to attract 75,000 new residents per year so that the Portuguese working population doesn't suffer significant losses. But what is the long-term strategy for this to happen? Are we making life easier for immigrants?

I did an experiment. I called the Central Registry Office to find out how long it takes, on average, to process an application for nationality. I was waiting for 56 minutes on the phone. And the answer was, "It takes about a year, but things are difficult, we have few people to manage everything, it can take a little longer."

The numbers are often cold. Other times they are not.

* Founder and President of Granito Group. His academic career went through the universities of Harvard, Columbia, Gothenburg and California-Berkeley. He was appointed Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum