28.1.2014 | Von:
Frank Swiaczny

Demographic Change in Germany and Europe

Eine Mutter mit ihren beiden Kindern. (© picture-alliance/AP)

Population Decline

The case of Germany helps illustrate the relationship between the partial processes constituting this demographic change[1]. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Germany had a total fertility rate (TFR) of approximately 4.2 children per woman (with a replacement fertility rate of 2.9 children at that time). The life expectancy of someone born during this time was less than 45 years. The number of births exceeded the number of deaths by an average of 10.4 per 1,000 residents; the natural balance in 1900 was +760,000. By the middle of the 1950s the birth rate had decreased to the new replacement fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman. This phase was followed by the "baby boom" until the end of the 1960s with peak levels of more than 2.5 children per woman.

The second demographic transition began in Germany at the beginning of the 1970s. It introduced the long-term trend to a total fertility rate of 1.4 children or less; this level has not been surpassed since 1991. 1971 was the last year in which the number of births exceeded the number of deaths. Since then there has been a negative natural balance (see Chart 2). The population growth since then has been dependent upon the level of net immigration. If immigration decreases, as it did since the middle of the 1990s, or if there is net emigration, as was the case during the economic crises at the beginning of the 1970s and 1980s, the population in Germany shrinks. In 2011 the birth deficit grew to -2.3 per 1,000 residents, and the natural balance sunk even further to -190,000 residents. Nonetheless there was not a population decline in that year. After many years with increasing population losses due to low or negative migration balances, the 2011 population in Germany grew slightly for the first time since 2003 due to the strong growth in net migration.


Chart 2: Population Balance in Germany, 1950-2011Chart 2: Population Balance in Germany, 1950-2011 Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)
Low fertility and an increased life expectancy of 78 years for men and 83 years for women have introduced a pronounced aging process. Around 1900, about 45 percent of the population in Germany was under 20 years old, and only 5 percent were over 65 years old. According to current model calculations, by 2060 the proportion of the population under 20 years old will have dwindled to one third of its current level, and the proportion of people over 65 years old will increase to more than six times of the current level. For the long-term, these model calculations indicate a strong decline in the population by 2060. With a total fertility rate at the current level of just below 1.4 children per woman and an assumed net immigration of 200,000 migrants per year starting in 2020, Germany would be expected to have a total population of approximately 70 million residents. With a constant net immigration of 100,000 migrants per year, the total population would consist of 65 million residents. With no net immigration, the population will sink to 60 million. With a moderate growth in fertility to 1.6 children per woman by 2025, a population level of 70 to 75 million residents can be sustained if accompanied by net immigration of 100,000 or 200,000 migrants respectively[2].

Compared to other European countries, Germany is facing a particularly strong trend towards an aging population, population decline, and dependence upon immigration for population growth. In some other western and northern European countries, the fertility rate has recovered after the initial decline. In many southern and eastern European countries, the decline started much later than in Germany (see chart 1). Hence there are differences concerning whether or not the natural population balance becomes negative and at what time period this shift takes place.

After an initial decline in fertility, the birth rate in France has currently almost reached the replacement fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman. According to the UN’s model calculations, if France maintains this fertility rate it will still continue to face a slight decline in its natural balance until the end of the century. Nonetheless, even assuming that net immigration will decrease in the long term, the natural population balance is expected to remain positive. The same applies to Ireland and Norway. In contrast, one can expect that Great Britain will be confronted with negative natural balances starting in 2050/55, even though its fertility rate is only slightly lower than that in France. In the Netherlands and Denmark, where the fertility rates have recovered from a strong decrease and have reached a level of 1.8 children per woman, a negative natural balance is expected to be reached by 2030/35 and 2035/40 respectively.

A different situation can be observed in Spain and Slovenia, where the decline in births began later and the fertility rate is now just over 1.4 children per woman – as well as in Poland, which faced a decline to below 1.4 children per woman after the transformation of its socio-political system. In some of these countries the birth deficit exists already; in Slovenia this began in 1995/2000 and in Poland in 2000/2005. In other countries like Spain, a negative balance is expected to take place in the time period 2010/2015. These demographic processes are superimposed by the migration balance. In Spain the average net immigration has been high since 1990, and in Slovenia it is slightly positive. In Poland a net emigration trend started in the 1950s and has intensified since the middle of the 1980s. Accordingly, Poland and Slovenia have shown negative population balances for some years now, while Spain is not expected to reach a negative population balance until the 2040s, assuming that Spain’s immigration will return to the same level it had before the economic crisis[3].

Notwithstanding the varying trends, the natural population developments in all selected European countries (see Chart 3) show a significant aging of the population between 1950 and 2010. In 1950 the proportion of residents below 20 years of age was between 30 percent and 40 percent (in Poland), and the proportion of residents 65 years old and older was between 5 percent (Poland) and 10 percent. By 2010, the proportion of younger age groups diminished substantially, and the proportion of older birth cohorts grew.

While the proportion of people under 20 years old has declined to between 25 and 30 percent in most countries, this trend is nonetheless varied. In Poland, Spain, or Slovenia, this group only constitutes around 20 percent. The forerunner in this development is Germany, which saw a decline from 33.8 percent in 1950 to 19.5 percent in 2010. As a result of declining fertility as well as rising life expectancy, in 2010 the increase in the proportion of people who were 65 years of age and older reached levels of 10 to 15 percent in all of the studied countries included in chart no. 3. Also in this case, Germany had an exceptionally high level with 18.2 percent.

Chart 3: Age Structure in Selected European Countries in 1950, 2010, 2060Chart 3: Age Structure in Selected European Countries in 1950, 2010, 2060 Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)
The impact of the fertility level upon the further dynamics of population aging can also be seen in chart no. 3, which shows the UN model calculation on the age structures in different countries until 2060, assuming that the fertility level will remain constant. Here we see two development trends. In the group of countries with a higher fertility level close to the replacement fertility rate, the proportion of the youngest age group only decreases by a few percent and reaches a level between 20 and almost 25 percent. In the countries with low fertility levels, including Germany, the proportion of this age group in 2060 will only be a little above 15 percent.

The long time frame for this model calculation (50 years) negates in this case the relevance of the different starting times for low fertility levels in the individual countries, such that the age structure in each society is almost exclusively the result of its respective fertility level. The proportion of people older than 65 years of age develops accordingly, growing to approximately 22 percent to 26 percent in the higher fertility countries and to 30 percent to 34 percent in the lower fertility countries.

This text is part of the policy brief on "Demographic Change and Migration in Europe".


Source: The Federal Statistical Office.
Source: The Federal Statistical Office.
Source: UN (2013b).
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