International migration statistics are less trustworthy than thought – many more people than we think are emigrating, according to research by Joop de Beer. ‘Discussions about migration are mainly about groups arriving that are considered troublesome’, the demographer says. ‘The fact that in the meantime large groups are also leaving the country goes unnoticed, although the economic effects of this can be considerable.’ De Beer will be awarded a PhD on 15 December 2011 by the Faculty of Spatial Sciences.
Migration statistics are usually based on data collected by municipalities about their inhabitants. The reason the figures are not completely trustworthy is that not everyone leaving for abroad informs their municipality. There is often no apparent benefit in doing so for someone leaving, while anyone arriving somewhere may have an interest, such as in acquiring housing or benefits. Joop de Beer presents a new calculation method in his PhD research. The method shows that when international emigration and immigration figures are compared, the actual emigration figures for 19 European countries are 50 percent higher than the ones officially published. Immigration is underestimated by ten percent, apparently.
Although Dutch population registration is quite good, relatively speaking, tens of thousands of inhabitants manage to ‘go lost’ every year. ‘Policymakers tend to focus on influx’, says De Beer in explaining the drawbacks of the statistics. ‘Groups considered troublesome receive a lot of attention, while others escape notice.’ While the large numbers of East Europeans coming to the Netherlands to work is a focus of attention, the fact that many leave after a few years escapes notice. De Beer: ‘My research shows that immigration problems are overestimated, while the problem of the shrinking working population is underestimated. If large numbers of Germans, British and Irish are leaving the Netherlands we should be aware of it, as it could have major consequences for our economy.’
Predicting birth rates can be improved by international comparisons, De Beer shows. In Sweden the average number of children per woman is 1.9, while in Germany and Poland this is 1.4. Southern European countries also have low numbers of children. By investigating for different European countries how quickly fertility rates are moving towards a northern European pattern, a prediction can be made about how fertility will develop in such countries. De Beer expects the average number of children in Germany and Poland to increase to 1.6 by 2030. ‘When economic differences between countries diminish, the birth rates will probably also begin to resemble one another. Northern European countries have already shown that an increase in female labour participation does not necessarily translate to a drop in numbers of children.
Developments in Japan can be used to predict life expectancy, De Beer states. The life expectancy of Japanese women is a few years higher than it is in European countries and still increasing, so it seems Europe can also expect it to rise further. The life expectancy of women in the Netherlands, however, has developed less fortuitously than in other European countries. If this should remain the case, the life expectancy of Dutch women is expected to rise from nearly 83 at the moment to just under 87 in 2060. If the Netherlands were to follow the European trend, Dutch women could expect an increase to 89 by 2060.
Joop de Beer (1955) is head of the Population Dynamics department of the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI). He studied economics in Rotterdam and conducted his PhD research at the NIDI and at the Faculty of Spatial Sciences of the University of Groningen. His supervisor was Prof. Frans Willekens. His thesis is entitled ‘Transparency in population forecasting: methods for fitting and projecting fertility, mortality and migration.’
Contact: Joop de Beer, tel. 070–356 52 34, e-mail: beer nidi.nl
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