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Declining birth rate

July 29, 2009

A growing number of women in Germany are opting against having children. The higher the education, the less likely women are to start a family. The trend, however, is less significant in eastern Germany.

Three kids in a kindergarten
Germany's demographics point to an aging populationImage: AP

New data released by Germany's federal statistics office indicates the country's birth rate is on the decline. The trend is particularly strong among women with a university degree and more significant in the western part of Germany than in the former communist east.

The number of women who don't have children at all is on the rise, and on top of that the actual number of kids by those who do have children is declining. However, this trend is likely to be reversed in the coming years, a spokeswoman of the federal statistics office said.

The data based on a 2008 census shows that 21 percent of women aged between 40 and 44 do not have any kids. With women ten years older, the figure is only 16 percent.

German Minister for Family Affairs Ursula von der Leyen
Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen hopes new policies will reverse the trendImage: AP

There is however a difference between western and eastern Germany. Of the women aged between 35 and 39, around 28 percent in the west have no children, while in the east it's only 16 percent.

The study also shows a connection with the level of education. The higher the education, the less likely a woman is to start a family. Germany's Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen said the "hesitant policies" of previous decades was largely to blame for this development.

She said that higher education and children were for a long time very difficult to combine. "Women had to choose between career and children. This has to change," she said, stressing that there was no alternative to her model of more financial incentives and increased flexiblity for paternity leave.

The trend of a falling birth rate, however does not apply to women from Germany's immigration community, where the number of women without children is significantly lower.

With 1.37 births per woman in 2007, Germany compares badly to its European neighbors. France leads the field with 1.9, followed by Sweden and Norway with an average, of 1.8 births per woman.

Editor: Neil King