(OPINION) Large-scale immigration — likely from Africa — is the only thing that can prevent Europe from becoming an empty amusement park

This time of year, the days in Ferrara, a slightly out-of-the-way medieval castle town in northern Italy that I visited in late September, have a charming monotony to them.

In the warmth of early fall mornings, tourists from other parts of Italy as well as further afield in Europe circle around the 14th-century castle’s moat and drawbridges or wander inside for the baronial view from there. On the main street nearby, where cars are banned, crowds file past a towering statue of the ascetic friar Jerome Savonarola. Judging from the conversations I could overhear, the pedestrian traffic was mostly made up of Italians.

There was one feature of this movement above all that caught my attention, though, and it is a good thing that it did: Weaving their way through the flow of shoppers and gawkers were well-dressed people on clanky bicycles, gliding through the crowds with a speed and self-assurance that suggested it was other people’s duty to get out of their way.

These are not, I promise, idle observations. Nor is this an essay about tourism or regional life in Italy. The distinguishing feature of the locals, and especially of the brazen cyclists, was their advanced average age, which I pegged at late 50s or early 60s. I could not, of course, poll these crowds, but as I observed them day after day, what demographers have been writing about Italy and certain other parts of Europe became obvious: This is a rapidly aging society where children, and hence young people, are becoming increasingly scarce. In 2022, Italian childbirths hit a record low, having declined for the 14th consecutive year. Nationally, more than 12 people died for every seven who were born…

Howard W. French, Foreign Policy, October 28, 2023
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