This series of blog posts by author Patti Digh will focus on issues of aging in the countries whose wines we will taste at our Wine Around the World event on October 6, 2016. There are a limited number of tickets left. Don’t miss this unforgettable event! Purchase online or stop by our office at 105 King Creek Blvd, Hendersonville, NC.
PORTUGAL’S PERFECT STORM
by Patti Digh
Between 1960 and 2012, the young population of Portugal greatly decreased and the number of elderly citizens greatly increased, changing significantly the population dynamics in that European nation. Why? Because of sharp fertility rate declines (they have the lowest fertility rate in Europe), the increase of life expectancy, and increased emigration in recent years, caused by unemployment and the economic crisis there. Over one-third of people under 25 in Portugal are unemployed and cannot find jobs in their own country, so they are leaving and Portugal is fast-becoming a nation of one-child families.
Under the current poor economic conditions in Portugal, the Portuguese population is going to continue to decrease, and the aging of the population that remains will likely result in the unsustainability of the country. For the elderly living in small families without children or a spouse, greater support from the community and local health services will be required, a situation that becomes even more acute in periods of economic depression. It is a perfect storm.
As reported in The Guardian, the recent fall in births across Portugal – to 89,841 babies in 2012, a 14% drop since 2008 and a 56% drop since 1960 – has been so acute that the government is closing a number of maternity wards nationwide. In an increasingly childless country, 239 schools are closing this year and sales of everything from diapers to children’s shampoos are plummeting. At the same time, in the fast-greying interior, petrol stations and motels are being converted into nursing homes.
Portugal is at the forefront of Europe’s latest baby bust, facing greatly increased social costs in some of the world’s most rapidly aging societies. By 2030 the retired population in Portugal will surge by 27.4%, with those older than 65 then predicted to make up nearly one in every four residents. With fewer and fewer future workers and taxpayers being born, the Portuguese are confronting what could be a real financial difficulty in providing for their aging population.
Experts predict that the population loss ahead for Portugal could be beyond even the worst-case predictions of nearly 1 million fewer inhabitants – or almost 10% of the current population of 10.56 million – by 2030. It has many bemoaning the “disappearance” of a nation, leaving them to ask: Who will be left to support a dying country of old men and women?
“This is one of the biggest problems we face as a nation,” said Jose Tavares, political economics professor at the Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon. “If we don’t find a way to fix this, we will be facing a disaster.”
The burdens ahead are also clear in communities across Portugal, where elder care is the largest single public expenditure. Recent national cuts have meant a reduction in the number of seniors towns are able to aid in their main adult day-care facilities.
To breathe new life into some areas, officials have sought to lure young people back, offering cash subsidies for new homebuyers in an attempt to stem years of losses of working-age residents to inland cities and more prosperous countries. Some towns are providing preschool for next to nothing, with children being minded in nursing homes, which thrills the residents. One clothing maker in central Portugal has started paying its workers a bonus for having babies, and towns are following suit.