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Low birth rates and not enough mothers ...

Destatis, 20 September 2012

Why are fewer and fewer children born in Germany? This is a fact although the government makes life easier for parents in many ways, most recently by introducing the parental allowance and by ensuring that day care is provided for a greater number of children. This question starts to bother people every time the Federal Statistical Office publishes declining birth rates. It is true that more favourable framework conditions have a positive effect on family planning as a completely private decision, but it is not the only factor deciding on the number of births. A combination of economic, social and cultural influences has led to a persistently low level of births and ever smaller births cohorts in Germany. It is however difficult to measure how strong they are. In contrast, demographic structures and the way they change can be quantified quite well. Only where there is an appropriate number of potential mothers can children be born and grow up. When we focus on the women of childbearing age, one thing becomes clear: the present birth rates are due to the decline in births recorded over the past 50 years.

The number of births fell markedly after the baby boom

Births in GermanyEnlarge picture

The highest number of babies (1.4 million) was born in Germany in the year 1964. Around the end of the 1960s, birth rates went down considerably especially in the former territory of the Federal Republic. That development was influenced by new conceptions of life which competed with the traditional image of the family and was favoured by the spread of the contraceptive pill. In 1972 births in Germany fell below the one million mark and then remained between 0.8 and 0.9 million per year. Since 1991, the number of births has gone down persistently except for individual years. In 2011, only 663,000 children were born in Germany, half as many as in 1964.

The number of potential mothers is declining

How many children are born strongly depends on the number of women of childbearing age, which for statistical purposes is set at 15 to 49 years.
For more than 40 years, only two thirds of the parent generation in Germany have been replaced by children. As a consequence, the number of women of childbearing age is also falling continuously and that group as a whole gives birth to fewer children.

In 2011 there were a total of 18.2 million women of childbearing age in Germany. That was 1.5 million less than in 1997, the year with most women in the relevant age group after German unification. At the time, the female baby boomer birth cohorts of the 1950s and 1960s belonged to that age group. Until 2011, the women born before 1963 gradually left the group of potential mothers and were replaced by the markedly smaller age cohorts of 1984 to 1996. Today, almost every age cohort of girls below the age of 15 is smaller than the preceding age cohort. This is why the number of women in the group of potential mothers is bound to fall continuously in the years to come.

It mostly depends on the 26 to 35-year-old women

Development of birth indicators compared with 1990Enlarge picture

Fertility differs within the group of women who are of childbearing age. Most children, that is over 60%, are born by women aged 26 to 35 years. For that reason, the development of that group has a particularly strong influence on the birth rate. Between 1990 and 1995, the number of 26 to 35-year-old women even rose by 8%, from 6.3 to 6.8 million, but as the average number of children per woman went down by 14% in the same period, the number of newborn children declined nevertheless. From 1997 to 2007, in contrast, the falling number of women in that age group was the decisive factor for the declining number of births; the average number of children born per woman had stabilised again. Since 2008 the number of those women has remained constant at some 5 million. According to population projection results, it will presumably remain almost unchanged in the years to come, but from 2020 at the latest, this age group will consist of markedly smaller cohorts. Consequently, a decline has to be expected in the number of potential mothers aged between 26 and 35 years.

If families are not supported, there will probably be even less offspring

The preceding demographic development virtually foreshadowed the falling birth rates of the last 20 years. While the relative contribution of women between 26 and 35 years to the number of births rose continuously, particularly small age cohorts from the mid-1970s moved up and replaced the baby-boom generation in that age group. Population projection results suggest that the number of potential mothers between 26 and 35 years will remain rather constant in the years to come, but that age group is expected to shrink considerably from 2020 at the latest and the number of births may hit another low. Other countries’ positive experience with a well-developed childcare infrastructure and measures to support families give reason to hope for more births in Germany than could be expected without such assistance. If the otherwise predictable decline in the number of births can be counteracted remains to be seen.

Olga Pötzsch und Petra Kucera - Federal Statistical Office

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