Citizens of Europe are urged to go forth and multiply

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European couples were urged yesterday to start producing more babies to counter an "alarming" rise in the proportion of old people in the continent's population.

As the workforce shrinks and the number of retired people grows, the pressure on the economies of EU countries will increase. By 2050, one person in three will be at least 60 and one in 10 will be over 80. The majority will be women.

Anna Diamantopoulou, EU social affairs commissioner, warned that there will be major economic as well as social implications of the rapidly ageing population. She told a United Nations seminar on ageing that the problems could be overcome, despite the consequences of people living longer lives in retirement.

"The first problem is that we are not replacing our populations, with low birth rates causing a growing distortion in our demographic structures," she said. "The second problem is that we are allowing, even encouraging, people to have shorter working lives, just at a time when they are fit and able to work even longer.

"The policy implications are clear. We need to bring our populations back into balance, and we need to take a much more positive view on immigration if we are to deliver the improved quality of life that greater longevity should bring." She said women account for two-thirds of the EU's over-60s, and on average live six years longer than men.

The commissioner was speaking at the second world assembly on ageing in Madrid. She said the EU was willing to share its experience in facing the challenge of ageing with other nations to strengthen international co-operation in tackling the problems of an increasingly elderly population.

The conference was told that the pace of population ageing is much faster in developing countries, which have a higher proportion of young people, which will give them less time to adjust.

* The halcyon days of youth are a myth; Britons are happiest between the ages of 65 and 74, shows a survey. People experience a general rise in well-being throughout life which peaks after retirement, shows the research by the pharmacist Boots.