Germany’s Declining Population

On January 28, 2015, AICGS hosted a seminar on “Germany’s Declining Population: No End in Sight?” with scholars Dr. Steven Kramer and Stefanie Wahl. In most of the developed world, birth rates have been declining. However, Germany is an example of a Western country experiencing low birth rates in the extreme. Based on his recently published book The Other Population Crisis: What Governments Can Do about Falling Birth Rates, Dr. Steven Kramer compared Germany’s current situation to that of other countries that have also experienced below replacement-level birth rates and the policies they implemented—successfully or unsuccessfully—to reverse the trend.

Sweden and France are both examples of countries that have successfully implemented policies to counter their population problems; however, their original motivations for doing so were different. Sweden saw population decline as a social issue and France saw population problems as a national security risk.  Both now focus on reconciling work and family.  In contrast, countries like Italy, Japan, and Singapore have been unable to solve their population problems for a number of reasons including, most notably, the influence of a fascist past, opposition to promoting gender equality, and political gridlock. Germany’s population problems are similar to problems that each of these countries faced with one distinguishing factor: the unique culture shaped by Germany’s past.

Germany’s inability to avoid a birthrate below replacement rate and in the long run a declining population can be viewed as a consequence of material and immaterial factors. Material factors include issues that many countries are facing: rising job requirements, low economic growth, and high costs to raise a child.  Immaterial conditions include things such as the legacy of a pronatalistic policy under the Nazi regime, a strong cultural preference to childlessness due to growing commitment to careers, and a concern for overpopulating and thus damaging the environment. Differentiating between material and immaterial factors is important in identifying why policies that were implemented in other countries will not necessarily provide corrective results in Germany, where immaterial factors tend to be more influential than material factors, like financing.  As a result, policies that seek to promote reproduction through monetary benefits are likely to be ineffective not least because Germany’s family benefits are already among the highest of the OECD countries. As cultural norms are difficult to overcome Germany has to adapt to a declining, ageing population. Recognizing Germany’s declining population problem will require a combination of measures. Three areas were suggested in which Germany can begin to address demographic change:

  1. Further improve the work-life-balance for women and men (including flexible work schedules and high quality of daycare);
  2. Implement an immigration policy that meets the requirement of the German labor market;
  3. Adapt its structures and institutions to a declining and ageing population.

Steven Philip Kramer has been Professor of National Security Studies at the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy at National Defense University in Washington, DC since 1992. From 1996 – 2002 he was also Senior Policy Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs where he focused on long-term issues and France.  In the spring and summer of 2011 he was a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars where he completed a book on The Other Population Crisis: What Governments can do about Falling Birthrates published by Wilson Center/Johns Hopkins Press in January 2014. Professor Kramer received his B.A. in history from Brandeis University and his PhD from Princeton University.

Stefanie Wahl is Managing Director of Denkwerk Zukunft – Foundation for Cultural Renewal, a think tank that aims to contribute to more sustainable lifestyles than the present, including a focus on demographic sustainability. Until 2008, Stefanie Wahl served as Managing Director of the Bonn Institute for Economic and Social Research (IWG BONN), where she was engaged in issues of demographic change, labor market developments, and social security. Ms. Wahl holds a degree in political science from the University of Geneva and, together with Meinhard Miegel, has published several books on demographic change. She was member of a commission on demographic issues of the Social Democratic Party in Germany as well as member of the political program commission of the Christian Democratic Union. She is member of the advisory board of several German foundations.

Stefanie Wahl’s Presentation