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Population Plunge

Hardy Graupner (th)November 7, 2006

Germany's population will drop by as much as 12 million by 2050 due to low birth rates, according to an official forecast released Tuesday.

Children could become a rare sight in GermanyImage: AP

The German population will fall to between 69 and 74 million people in the next four decades, according to a study by the Federal Statistics Office. That would equal approximately 15 percent drop from the current population of 82.4 million.

With an average of 1.36 children per woman, Germany has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe and immigration cannot make up the shortfall. Not only are Germans not having children, but the population is also getting older and living longer. That would mean a 22 percent drop in the working population, according to the statistics office.

Fewer workers and more retirees would put the country's already strained welfare state under even more pressure.

Eastern Germany hardest hit

Alter Mann Porträt p178
The face of Germany will continue to ageImage: BilderBox

Eastern parts of the country stand a fair chance of being hit by partial depopulation, said Walter Radermacher, the deputy head of the Federal Statistics Office.

"The projections tell us the development of demographic trends will be even more dramatic in the eastern part of Germany," Radermacher said in an interview with DW-RADIO. "This is because of the fertility rates in the eastern part of Germany, because of internal migration within the borders of Germany and many other demographic factors."

What really worries demographers is a seemingly inevitable trend here towards a growing number of elderly people. Statisticians reckon that by 2050 the group of people past the age of 60 in Germany will be twice as high as those under 20. Boys who are born now will on average reach the biblical age of 83.5 years, with girls making it to 88. This will cause a strain on an already overburdened social system which some say will go bankrupt in just a few decades.

"I wouldn't like to use the word 'bankrupt' because it's a major challenge for the social insurance systems, that's for certain," Radermacher said. But the first thing is to reform the social security systems…We can learn from other countries… In every case, you need someone who has to work and give you some earnings."

The immigration factor

Unterricht türkische Schülerinnen mit Kopftuch im Schulzentrum in Bremen
Immigrants won't make up for the drop in populationImage: AP

The statistics office's projections are based on an annual influx of migrants of between 100,000 and 200,000 people. Many of them are expected to be Muslims. A small group of policymakers and scientists have been warning that by 2050 Germany might become a Muslim-dominated country. But Radermacher apparently thought little of ideologically-tinted theories.

"Even those people who are immigrants adopt after a couple years the lifestyle and the number of children per family. So the assumption that immigrants will stick to their habits is simply not true," Radermacher said.