Demographic trends are determined by four factors: the current population, births, deaths and net migration, i.e. the difference between immigration and emigration.
Yet while Germany’s population is not shrinking, it is ageing, and this despite an influx of predominantly young people. In 2035 about 25 per cent of those living in Germany will be older than 67, as opposed to some 20 per cent today. With or without refugees the long-term care insurance, the labour market and the pay-as-you-go-financed pension scheme are bound to come under increasing pressure.
In recent years, Germany has been welcoming a growing number of children into the world. The birth rate has risen to an average of 1.5 births per woman. At the same time, more mothers with small children have been going to work. These successes would scarcely have been possible without a redirection of family policy.
In many areas, however, childcare facilities remain inadequate despite the introduction of new services. Thus, despite the legal right to childcare, there is still a considerable shortage of day-care centre places for under-three-year-olds. At the same time, quality assurance needs to be improved. Particularly in view of the large number of refugee families, there is a need to ensure that all children learn German well enough in kindergarten to be able to follow lessons without difficulty when they reach school. In addition to good child care, families also need financial support. At least in this field, with its child benefit and non-contributory health insurance for children, Germany already compares well with other countries.
Germany is dependent on immigrants for rejuvenating its ageing population. How much they can contribute to maintaining the skilled workforce that German companies need and stabilizing public budgets will depend on how well they are integrated into the labour market.
Given that the number of potential migrants from the European Union is likely to fall as the societies of other member states also age, Germany should make it easier for skilled workers from non-EU countries to settle here. There is a particular need for an updated immigration law to establish clear conditions for immigration from third countries. This should include allowing access to those without a specific job offer whose qualifications nonetheless mean that they have good prospects of finding work. In addition, it should be made simpler for the education and training that immigrants received in their home country to be recognized here so that the qualifications they bring with them retain their value.
Rising life expectancy and a low birth rate mean that the society is ageing and shrinking. Demographic change is hitting Germany harder than most other industrialised countries.
The shrinking and ageing of the population is especially pronounced in rural areas. This makes it more difficult to achieve the nationwide equality of living standards prescribed by the constitution. Changes in demography are causing problems on the labour market and in the social security system, too. While the number of workers paying social insurance contributions steadily declines, the ranks of the pensioners and long-term nursing cases continue to swell.
It is the task of our political leaders to do everything possible to exploit the potential for additional workforce participation. Improved day care facilities would allow mothers an early return to work. Shortening secondary and tertiary education would enable young people to start their careers earlier. Finally, there is no getting round the fact that older employees will have to be kept at work longer.