Germany, along with most other European nations, faces challenges associated with its declining birth rate. The most recent data from the Federal Statistical Office of Germany puts the country’s birth rate at 1.58 children per woman — far below what most experts consider the replacement rate that wealthy nations need to sustain their economies.
This has sparked dramatic predictions of a 14% drop in the country’s population by 2060, and concerns that Germany may one day be replaced by France or the United Kingdom as the most populous country in Europe. But what’s behind the trend? If the country’s birth rate really is falling, why? And is there anything that can be done about it?
The birth rate in Germany
According to the most recent statistics, Germany had a fertility rate of 1.58 children per woman in 2021. That’s just slightly above the EU average of 1.5 children per woman. The fertility rate is worked out as the number of live births per year per 1,000 women of reproductive age. Another metric used to measure population growth is the birth rate, which is calculated as the number of births per year per 1,000 individuals; the birth rate in Germany is just below 9.4.
Germany’s fertility rate has not always been in decline. In fact, it has climbed significantly from a low of 1.2 in 1994. But recent data points to a more concerning picture. The birth rate fell by 7% between 2021 and 2022, and the trend looks set to continue.
The population of Germany
At the end of 2022, Germany’s population was 84.3 million‚— the highest ever recorded in the country. In addition, the population grew by 1.1 million between 2021 and 2022. With a fertility rate far below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman, how did this happen? With such a low fertility rate, Germany’s population surely should be shrinking.
This recent increase in population is tied to another phenomenon: record-breaking net immigration. In fact, immigration has been responsible for growing Germany’s population since at least the 1970s. Germany has been an appealing destination for immigrants since the 1950s, with workers attracted by its thriving economy. Though Turkey has long been a major source of migrant workers, recent geopolitical events have led to a huge increase in forced migration from countries such as Syria and Ukraine.
The fertility rate of Germany hasn’t climbed above two children per woman since 1970, yet the population has grown from 78.1 million to over 84 million in that time span. This may seem like a massive increase, but comparing Germany with its neighbors reveals a different story. In the same period, the population of France climbed from 51.7 million to 67.8 million, showing a much stronger rate of growth.
Over 17% of Germany’s population has immigrated to the country since 1950. This gives Germany a relatively large proportion of immigrants compared to the European Union (EU) average of 10.6%. Most of Germany’s migrants come from other EU countries, with Polish migrants accounting for the largest number (closely followed by Romanians). Germany also has large numbers of migrants from countries outside the EU, namely Turkey and Syria.
Large or small families?
The overall trend in Germany, as in many countries around the world, is toward smaller families.
With that said, certain groups in Germany may buck this trend and spur an uptick in the birth rate. Larger families are the norm in countries like Syria and Iraq. While Germany’s birth rate sits at 1.58, the rate in Syria is 2.8 and in Turkey is 1.9. Migrants from these countries may have more children than the German average when they first arrive. Whether this will last may depend on the extent to which these recent immigrants adjust to the cultural norms of their adopted country.
Despite incentives such as child and parental allowance and subsidies for pregnant people and low-income families, 53% of families in Germany have only one child. Many parents are delaying having children, and the average age of both first-time mothers and fathers has climbed to 30 and 35, respectively. Moreover, an increasing proportion of German women are remaining childless up to the end of their reproductive age. In 2018, 21% of German women between the ages of 45 and 49 were childless, an increase from 17% in 2008. More and more couples are choosing not to have children, with some citing the climate crisis as a reason.
What does the German population look like?
With a fertility rate of 1.58, Germany has small families of one or two children. People tend to wait until they are in their 30s to have their first child. Despite high immigration, often from countries where larger families are the norm, the German population is predicted to shrink as these immigrants adapt to German trends.