Germany's demographic gloom

Carolyn Moynihan
27 May 2010
Reproduced with Permission

Germany is struggling to solve its population and demographic crisis, reporting that last year births dropped by 30,000 and there was a net loss of 13,000 people through migration.

Increasing parental leave payments and daycare places over the past few years have not worked the required magic, and the country is still staring at the prospect of a population that is both smaller and older over the next few decades. Ageing Germany was the subject of a best-selling book, The Methuselah Conspiracy, already in 2004.

It is common to blame things that militate against mothers holding down paid jobs: things like Germany's school system -- which sees school classes over and children arriving home at lunchtime every day; lack of daycare, a social prejudice against working mothers, and even an intolerant attitude to children and their noise (something that could only get worse as society ages).

According to Katya Tichomirowa, a specialist in family policy, France and Scandinavia, which have higher birthrates, contradicted the idea that a low rate was natural in industrialised societies. She blamed instead a systematic failure to see each in a couple as equal.

"Nowhere in Europe is the tax system geared so much in favour of the family model of single-breadwinning father and stay-at-home wife as it is [in Germany] … the state should be supporting the career development of both parents, enabling both to take part in child care," she wrote in the Berliner Zeitung.

Of course one of the reasons France and a Scandinavian country such as Sweden have more births is that half the parents don't wait to get married. Of all births in Germany 30 per cent are out-of-wedlock, while the comparable figure for France is 50 per cent and Sweden 55 per cent. Having babies isn't everything; giving them a proper family is important too.

"There are many reasons why couples don't have children," said Family Minister Kristin Schröder in a statement. "The economic crisis and job fears play a role. We have to help people combine work and family, especially in these difficult economic times."

Given all these factors, it is difficult to see how the country will turn around a birth rate of 1.38 children per woman -- the lowest in Europe, though close to Italy.