There was no population growth at all in Germany in 2020, for the first time since 2011. It wasn’t because fewer babies were born, though the birth rate did drop slightly in 2020.
Normally, Germany’s population growth results solely from positive net immigration. In fact, without immigration, the population would have actually been shrinking since 1972.
Covid-19 restrictions have meant that immigration to Germany dropped off in 2020, stalling growth. Migration is predicted to be between 25% and 45% lower than in 2019.
With a birth rate of just 1.54 babies per woman (the replacement rate is about 2.1), there have been more deaths than births in every year since 1972. In 2010, the German birth rate hit just 1.39 babies per woman. A springtime survey by the London School of Economics indicates that the birth rate could be impacted again by the present pandemic.
So why so few German babies?
One reason is seemingly financial. Another is values. Many women now consider their work to be more important to them than having a big family. A study by the German Institute for Population Research published last year found that big families in Germany tend to have a strong religious background — mainly Muslim, but also Catholic — and tend to live where housing is more affordable, such as suburban or rural areas.
To help to solve the problem of mothers who wish, or need, to work, but also want to have children, Philipp Deschermeier from the German Society for Demography argues:
“…we need more options that allow people to work from home or part-time and for childcare so that both parents can work.”
Though our lives are more than a career path. And many women feel very fulfilled being able to be at home with their children, despite the adjustment from the world of education and work which generally comes before. Ed Conway argues in The Times today that “it’s time we thought more about procreation”.
Home and family life are what most people say are most important to them and add the most purpose to their lives. In 2018, happiness among young adults in America at least fell to a record low and studies have linked this phenomenon to less stable relationships. For instance, The Atlantic concluded:
“Declining sex is at least partly about family and religious changes that make it harder for people to achieve stable, coupled life at a young age. If we’d like more young adults to experience the joy of sex, we will have to either revive these institutions or find new ways to kindle love in the rising generation.”
Germany is certainly not alone in being forced to think hard about these questions. They are a global phenomenon.