Latest Census Underlines Multicultural German Reality | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 11.06.2006

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Latest Census Underlines Multicultural German Reality

National census results released this week reveal that Germany is fatter, lonelier -- and more ethnically diverse than ever before. It was the first census to cover health and immigration.

Germany is waking up and smelling the coffee

Germany is waking up and smelling the coffee

The recently announced results of the 2005 national census in Germany have given an official face to what has been fairly obvious: Germans are getting fatter (58 percent men and 42 percent of women are overweight) and more than a quarter of them still can't kick their smoking habit.

Who is German?

Of greater political significance however, is the finding, presented on Tuesday by President of the Federal Office of Statistics Johann Hahlen, that nearly one fifth of all Germans (15.3 million people or 19 percent of the population) have an immigrant background. This includes those who have immigrated to Germany themselves and may or may not have a German passport, and those with at least one immigrant parent.

These statistics, part of the annual census for the very first time, come after a wave of immigration-related discussions spurred by a recent attack on an Ethiopian-German in Potsdam. They also follow a recent exposé on violence and poor conditions in schools with immigrant majorities.

Symbolbild Integration Deutschunterricht für Ausländer

Learning German is the key to integration

Not everyone fits the mould

The census is yet another sign that Germany has to tackle the burning issue of integration of immigration and face up to its serious failings in the matter in the past.

For decades Germany has been content to treat all immigrants like "Gastarbeiter" -- pretending they will return to their home country at some point. Ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union were hastily given passports after World War Two and expected to assimilate on their own.

Türkische Frauen beim Einkauf

Coexisting isn't enough

Redefining family

The ongoing evolution of the family is another matter raised by the census results, which has both social and political ramifications. Patchwork families, disillusionment with marriage and a lack of willing caretakers for elderly parents are neither new concerns nor are they unique to Germany.

According to the census, only 1 percent Germany's 39.2 million households have three or more generations.

Germans are having fewer children, but apparently they aren't caring for their parents. The elderly aren't living with their children (22 percent of German households consist exclusively of individuals above the age of 65) and nor are the middle-aged (24 percent of couples live without children).

Jahresrückblick Dezember 2006 Deutschland, Rauchverbot, Diskussion, Symbolbild

German men, especially divorced men, tend to smoke more than German women

Taking stock

The census results bring warnings as well as reason for cautious optimism. The country is rich in cultural diversity but is recognizing the need to rethink its immigration strategy.

And even if smoking rates are high, they are down 2 percent than in 1999. As for the expanding waistlines -- well, blame McDonald's.

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