The challenge of rural depopulation: Facing the scenario of demographic deserts in the EU

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The rural exodus has been triggered in Europe since the early decades of the second half of the twentieth century. Many people, especially the younger members of society, continue to migrate to the cities looking for job opportunities, better felicities, and higher wages than in the countryside. Over the years, the exodus to the vibrant urban centers together with the negative natural growth has led to an unstoppable dynamic of population decline in many EU territories, which in addition generate substantial gaps between regions of the same country. As a result, Europe must face today the scenario of demographic deserts threatening throughout the ‘old continent’.

The European Commission report on poverty in rural areas identified the exodus and aging problem, the remoteness, the lack of education facilities and the labor market issues (such a lower employment rates and seasonal work) as the four main factors to determine the risk of poverty and social exclusion. It is not a coincidence that these deficiencies are features of sparsely populated and underpopulated regions. According to a Joint Research Centre report, if the current economic and demographic trends continue, one would expect a growing number of regions to be classified as ‘less developed’.

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