Forerunner, "WorldWatch," September-October 2004

Even though the European Union is trying to shape itself to rival the United States in several arenas, certain military, economic, and demographic factors point to the EU's need to make dramatic shifts to stay in the superpower game:

» As reported by, Europe's population is aging, and there are not enough new births to sustain it. The present trend indicates that, by the middle of the century, more than half the population will be age 65 or older. By contrast, the median age in the U.S. in 2050 is predicted to be 35.4, only slightly more than what it is now. This bodes ill especially for Europe's pension system, which, as a number of officials are realizing, is headed for imminent collapse. Although the trend is uniform across Europe, Germans may feel the pinch most because of their highly state-funded system. To maintain the current system, there must be at least four working-age people for every three retirees, and by 2035, every worker will have to support himself and one retired person.

» Europe's aging population and low birth rates also signal a decreased work force. The 2004 World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, revealed that, while the labor forces of Southeast Asia and India will continue to grow in the next 30 years, the EU will see a decline in its labor force population from 208.7 million in 2000 to 151.2 million in 2050—a little over 70% of its current level. During the same period, the number of people over the age of 60 in the EU will climb from 82.1 million to 125.1 million. As for economic productivity, the EU's share of total global output is predicted to shrink by almost half. Today, the EU produces some 18% of the world's wealth; in 2050 that figure is expected to fall to 10%. Richard Samans of the World Economic Forum says, "Economic output is determined by labor force growth and productivity rates. In countries with significant projected labor shortages, the supply of goods and services may not meet demand and standards of living."

» Niall Ferguson, columnist for The London Telegraph, shows that on top of Europe's shrinking labor force is another disparity: what "labor" actually means. German, Italian, and French workers enjoy, on average, more than 40 vacation days each year, while the average American takes just two weeks. Additionally, over the past decade, U.S. unemployment has averaged 4.6% compared with 9.2% for the EU. Another difference is in labor participation. Between 1973 and 1998, the percentage of employed Americans rose from 41% to 49%. However, in Germany and France, the equivalent percentage fell to, respectively, 44% and 39%. Consider also the European proclivity for labor strikes. Between 1992 and 2001, the Spanish economy lost, on average, 271 days per thousand employees because of strikes. For Denmark, Italy, Finland, Ireland, and France, the figures lay between 80 and 120 days, while America lost just 50 days. Perhaps the most striking difference between American and European working patterns, however, relates to working hours. In 1999, the average employed American worked just under 2,000 hours a year (1,976). The average German worked 1,535 hours—22% less. A recent study shows the average Frenchman works a staggering 32% less.

Protestantism's Decline

According to a study by the University of Chicago, Protestants may soon account for less than half of the U.S. population for the first time since the country's founding. While still outnumbering Catholics—the next biggest group—by roughly two to one, Protestant denominations have been steadily losing members. While Protestant membership stood at 63% of the population in 1993, it fell to 52% in 2002 and is predicted to drop below half in the next year or two. Tom Smith, general director of the National Opinion Research Center, states that "many scholars have noted that the numbers of people who say they have 'no religion' is increasing, but they haven't noted what faith group these people have been leaving. It is clear that many of these people are former Protestants." It is also possible that a small number of the people who formerly identified themselves as Protestant now identify themselves simply as "Christian," in which case they would fall into the "other" category on the survey, Smith said. Those who in 2002 said they were Catholic remained fairly steady at about 25% of the population. People who said they belonged to other religions, including Eastern faiths and Islam, Orthodox Christians, nondenominational Christians, and native-American faiths, increased from 3% to 7% between 1993 and 2002, while the number of people who identified themselves as Jewish remained stable at slightly under 2%. Those who claimed no religion totaled nearly 14% in 2002 compared to 9% in 1993. Protestants are in decline, the survey found, because younger adherents are dropping out.