Germany has been an aging society for years, well on its way to becoming a gerontocracy. People born during the 1960s now have gray hair and are delighted to receive gifts from politicians seeking their votes, like pensions at the age of 63.
In 1964 nearly 1.4 million babies were born in Germany. Since then the number declined continuously: By 2011, births numbered just under 663,000.
But there has been a shift. In 2015 the number of births rose for the fourth year in a row — to 738,630,Germany's Federal Statistical Office reported Thursday. That’s more than in the last 15 years.
“Partnership, family and children have high priority for youths and young adults,” said sociologist Harald Rost of the State Institute for Family Research. He said the desire for children and the actual number of children born no longer diverge as widely as they did 10 or 15 years ago.
Experts aren’t sure whether the mini-baby boom is tied to efforts at reversing the long decline in births, including billions spent on family benefits, kindergarten construction and family-friendly company policies.
Despite rises in the birth rate, only immigration guarantees that the German population will continue to grow.
“We consider it too early to speak about a turnaround,” said Anja Conradi-Freundschuh, a demographic expert from the Federal Statistical Office.
In 2011, there were 1.391 children born for every woman of childbearing age in Germany. By 2014, the figure was 1.475.
“When all the data has been processed in September, we will be able to say whether this trend has continued in 2015,” Ms. Conradi-Freundschuh said.
Still, it is clear the Germany birth rate continues to lag behind the 2.1 babies per woman required to keep population from shrinking.
Family affairs minister Manuela Schwesig of the center-left Social Democrats called the new figures “a positive signal.” They show “that more and more women and men want children,” she said.
If it were only a matter of the babies born in Germany, the population would have declined by 187,609 in 2015. That is how many more people died than were born here last year.
The last year when births exceeded deaths was 1971 in West Germany and 1988 in East Germany.
Only immigration guarantees that the population of Germany continues to grow. The influx of refugees added 1.14 million in 2015, the biggest migration surplus ever recorded in the Federal Republic.
Only a few densely populated areas have seen increases in both immigration and births.
In Hamburg, for example, there were more births than deaths in recent years. In 2014, 19,000 babies were born versus 16,700 deaths. No figures are yet available for 2015.
At the same time, the influx of people coming to the region from both outside and inside the country continues unabated.
“In 2015, only 44 percent of all inhabitants were native Hamburgers, and the trend is for that percentage to keep sinking,” said Annett Jackisch from the city’s statistics office.
One quarter of migrants to Hamburg were born abroad and 32 percent in other German states.
These developments present many densely populated areas with special challenges. Above all, the need for day-care centers and schools is growing. The German capital, for instance, will soon be faced with an emergency situation.
“We need 60 new schools in Berlin,” said Green Party opposition politician Stefanie Remlinger.
It’s an ongoing dilemma: More children cost the state more money in the short term. But a falling birth rate will burden German budgets in the long term.
Peter Thelen writes about social security systems, the job market and labor topics. To contact the author: [email protected]