Baby Gap: Germany’s Birth Rate Hits Historic Low

Tristana Moore, Time, May 23, 2010

Germany is shrinking–fast. New figures released on May 17 show the birth rate in Europe’s biggest economy has plummeted to a historic low, dropping to a level not seen since 1946. As demographers warn of the consequences of not making enough babies to replace and support an aging population, the latest figures have triggered a bout of national soul-searching and cast a harsh light on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s family policies.

According to a preliminary analysis by the Federal Statistics Office, 651,000 children were born in Germany in 2009–30,000 fewer than in 2008, a dip of 3.6%. In 1990, German mothers were having on average 1.5 children each; today that average is down to 1.38 children per mother. With a shortfall of 190,000 between the number of people who died and the number of children who were born, Germany’s birth rate is well below the level required to keep the population stable.

“The German birth rate has remained remarkably flat over the past few years while it has increased in other low-fertility countries, like Italy and the Czech Republic,” Joshua Goldstein, executive director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, tells TIME. “Women are continuing to postpone motherhood to an older age and this process of postponement is temporarily lowering the birth rate.” According to Goldstein’s research, Germany has the longest history of low fertility in Europe.

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{snip} The Federal Statistics Office says Germany’s population of 82 million could drop by up to 17 million over the next 50 years. Demographers fear a shrinking workforce will stymie growth and struggle to foot the bill for a rapidly aging population. “Germany’s working-age population is likely to decrease 30% over the next few decades,” says Kröhnert of the Berlin Institute for Population Development. “Rural areas will see a massive population decline and some villages will simply disappear–Germany will become a weak economic power in the future.”

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