Germany has one of the lowest birth rates in all of Europe. But preliminary government data shows that 2010 may be bucking the trend, producing the biggest increase in births in a decade.
The early figures showed a 3.6 percent rise from 2009
Preliminary figures from the German Federal Office of Statistics released on Wednesday found that approximately 510,000 children were born in the first nine months of 2010 - a jump that could turn into the greatest increase in births in a decade.
The data, published in a report by the Munich-based daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, said the 2010 numbers were a 3.6 increase from the previous year. If the increase continues through the end of the year and the numbers are confirmed next fall, it could be the biggest increase in births in a decade.
Federal Office of Statistics spokesman Manfred Ehling said the numbers also have a regional component to them.
The East's greater birth rate may have to do with stronger child care
"What we're seeing is that in the East, there number of births is growing faster than in the West - which I think definitely has to do with the better child care in that region," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Family Ministry declined to comment on the numbers because they were not yet officially confirmed, but said that it was a good sign that the economic crisis in 2009 "did not dramatically sink."
There is widespread consensus that Germany's birth rate - one of the lowest in Europe - is a serious problem. As the so-called "baby boom" generation gets older and goes into retirement, fewer younger workers will be paying into state pension funds, leaving the government with less money to support the older generation.
The government, for its part, has tried to create incentives for having children. Parents can get money for each kid they have into the child's 20s, and since 2007 the government offers paid maternity or paternity leave for the child's first 14 months.
German mothers may face stigma for choosing to work and parent
But while initial statistics may have shown that the government's measures have had some effect, the general decline of the birth rate has not yet ended. Last month the government confirmed that 2009 had the lowest birth rate since record keeping began in 1946.
Dr. Joachim Roos, chief of gynecology at St. Elizabeth hospital in Bonn, said the western German city's birth rate is one of the few in the country still increasing. He said so far the number of births in his department has grown eight percent from last year.
But the national numbers still come as a surprise to him, and he said if Germany hopes to keep up the trend, society needs to change: It needs to be acceptable for women to send their children to child care at a young age.
"That's something that's still a problem in Germany," he told Deutsche Welle. "Mothers who choose to go back to work six months or a year after giving birth are still looked at differently by society. That's in comparison with France, where it's actually normal."
Author: Andrew Bowen
Editor: Andreas Illmer