Demographic change has long since arrived in Germany. The declining number of people at a younger age and the simultaneous increase in the number of older people are shifting the demo-graphic framework in ways never seen before. Every second person in Germany is now older than 45 and every fifth person is older than 66 years of age. On the other hand, Germany has experienced unusually strong immigration in recent years, especially of young people. After many years of decline, birth rates have been rising since 2012.
Old and young in Germany – demographic change and its consequences
2022 is to be the EU Year of Youth – the European Union has declared it so. At the same time, societies like ours in Germany are getting older and older. How does the population evolve over the next few decades? What is the impact of demographic change? And how do young people deal with this? We talk about this in our podcast StatGesprach with our population expert Bettina Sommer and with Katharina Swinka, Secretary General of the Federal Student Conference.
Demographic change and population size
The population size is directly influenced by three demo-graphic components: births, deaths and the difference between the inflows to and outflows from Germany (net migration).
Changing birth patterns
The development of the number of births – apart from the number of potential mothers – is related to the birth behavior of women. How many women in a birth cohort actually become mothers, when do women start a family, how many children do they give birth to in the course of their lives?? Answers to these questions show how women’s birth patterns are changing. The data are provided by birth statistics and the microcensus.
Trend toward later births continues
Women are having their children at an increasingly older age. In 2020, the mothers of firstborn children were on average 30 years old. In 1970, on the other hand, a woman was about 24 years old when she had her first child in the former West Germany, and as young as 22 in the former East Germany.
Final number of children per woman: end of the downward slide
Women born in the 1930s – for the most part the mothers of the baby boom generation – gave birth to more than two children on average. Your family’s founding phase coincided with the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s. However, there were already signs of a decline in the final number of children per woman among women born from the mid-1930s onward. The decline was particularly rapid between the birth cohorts of 1934 and 1944, when fewer and fewer women decided to have a fourth or further child. Subsequently, the number of children per mother has stabilized at two, but at the same time the proportion of women who have not had a child at all during their lifetime has increased.
Between the cohorts 1937 and 1966, the so-called final childless rate (share of childless women in all women of a cohort) almost doubled from 11% to 21%. It stabilized in subsequent cohorts, varying slightly between 20% and 21% until the 1969 cohort.
The increasing childlessness of women led to a continuous decline in the final number of children per woman, which reached its historic low of 1.49 children per woman among women born in 1968.
Women born in the first half of the 1970s have already given birth to more children on average by 2018 – at the age of 39 to 48 – than women born in 1968. Two main factors are responsible for this: First, the birth rate of women aged 30 and older has increased significantly. Under generally favorable economic and family-political conditions, they have realized their hitherto unrealized wish to have children. Second, the fertility of these cohorts in the younger childbearing age group up to 29 years has stabilized. Immigrant women, who tended to be younger than German women when their children were born, played a decisive role in this development. As their share of all women has increased in the 1970s cohorts, this has had a positive impact on total fertility.
- Press release: one in five women aged 45-49 was childless in 2018
- Press release: Increased fertility among older mothers
- Volume of tables: childlessness, births and families – results of the 2018 microcensus (2019 edition) (WISTA 3/2018)
Life expectancy and mortality
In connection with demographic change, life expectancy at birth is the key indicator for expressing the trend toward longer and longer lives. This long-term trend has been observed since the beginning of statistical records at the end of the 19th century. The following can be observed at the beginning of the twentieth century. Since then, the life expectancy of newborns has more than doubled. The main reasons for this are advances in medical care, hygiene, nutrition and housing, improved working conditions and increased well-being.
According to the results of the 2018/2020 life table, the life expectancy of newborn boys is 78.6 years and that of girls 83.4 years. Longer life expectancy at higher ages has also risen sharply. In 1871/1881, for example, 65-year-old men still had an average of 9.6 years to live. In 2018/2020, it was already 17.9 years. This development is even more pronounced among women: While the value for the period 1871/1881 was 10 years, 65-year-old women could still look forward to an average of 21.1 more years of life in 2018/2020.
Further increases in life expectancy are expected in the future as well. In the 14. Three assumptions were made for this purpose in the coordinated population projections. The increase in life expectancy at birth up to 2060 varies in intensity. A range of +4 to +8 years was assumed for men, and +3 to +6 years for women.
These assumptions assume that improved living conditions, declining smoking rates and alcohol consumption, as well as further improvements in medical care will continue to positively influence the further increase in life expectancy in the future.
In the future, the improved chances of survival in old age will increasingly influence the increase in life expectancy. At a younger age, the mortality risk is already very low today.
How life expectancy is calculated?
The values for life expectancy (z.B. at birth) result from the so-called mortality tables. These can be drawn up either for specific periods (period mortality tables) or for birth cohorts (cohort mortality tables). Public perception usually focuses on results from period mortality tables. Final results for the actual life expectancy of individual birth cohorts from cohort mortality tables are only available when all relatives of the corresponding birth cohort have already died.
What does the statistical life expectancy mean for the individual??
Although the term "life expectancy" suggests that the results can be used to indicate the expected time span from a certain age to death, the values are usually very hypothetical. Either statements can be made about how old a person would become on average if the conditions of the current period were to remain unchanged (period mortality tables) or if the current trends of change were to continue for a very long time into the future (cohort mortality tables for birth cohorts that are still alive). In addition, mortality tables can only provide average values for life expectancy, from which individual survival perspectives can deviate considerably depending on life circumstances, lifestyle, occupation, health condition and other factors.
Old-age dependency ratio – working-age population and senior citizens
For every 100 people aged 20 to 65, there were about 36 people aged 66 and over in Germany in 2019. This so-called old-age dependency ratio shows how many potential pensioners people of working age have to provide for in the broadest sense: financially through contributions to pension and health insurance schemes, but also through medical care, nursing services or supporting services in the household. If the number of seniors increases and the number of working-age people decreases, the old-age dependency ratio increases. Without adequate measures, care may become more difficult as a result. Regions are affected differently by the challenges of demographic aging.
Development since 1950
In 1950, there were 16 persons of retirement age compared to 100 persons of working age. The old-age dependency ratio of 16 was thus less than half of what it will be in 2019. Until the end of the 1970s, the old-age dependency ratio increased continuously to 27 in 1979. The reason for this was the increase in life expectancy on the one hand and the effects of the Second World War on the age structure of the population on the other. As a result, the number of older people increased faster than the number of people aged 20 to 65: Between 1950 and 1979, the number of people aged 65 and older increased by 5.5 million, while the number of people aged 20 to under 65 increased by only 3.1 million. In the following years until 1991, however, the old-age dependency ratio fell to 24 and subsequently stabilized at this level. During these years, the baby boomers reached working age. At the same time, the weak cohorts born after the beginning of the First World War reached retirement age.
Since 1991, an almost continuous increase in the old-age dependency ratio has again been observed, due to the subsequent increase in the number of low-birth-rate cohorts. The old-age dependency ratio grew particularly strongly at the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s: Within eight years between 1998 and 2006, it rose from 25 to 33.
The impact of demographic change varies from region to region: At the beginning of the 2000s, the old-age dependency ratio in eastern and western German states was almost the same. Since then, aging has progressed more rapidly in eastern German states: the old-age dependency ratio in western German states has risen only slightly from 33 in 2006 to 35 in 2019. In the same period, it has increased from 36 to 46 in the eastern German states. The background to these different developments is, on the one hand, the decline in the birth rate in the East after reunification and, on the other hand, the immigration to West Germany from the new federal states and from abroad, which has slowed down the aging process in the West.
Since the mid-1990s, the old-age dependency ratio has been lowest in the urban states. This may be related to the fact that urban areas are home to many young adults, working people and families due to the availability of jobs, universities and schools. In 2019, the city-states as a whole had an old-age dependency ratio of 31. In a comparison of the federal states, Hamburg (29) and Berlin (31) had the lowest values in 2019, followed by Baden-Wurttemberg, Bavaria and Hesse (33). Proportionally, the most elderly people per 100 persons of working age lived in Saxony-Anhalt (48) in 2019, followed by the other eastern German states of Saxony (47), Thuringia (46), Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (44) and Brandenburg (43).
The calculation of the old-age dependency ratio is based on data from the population update on population stocks according to years of birth. The demarcation of the population of working age and the population of retirement age is thus based on the year of birth. Actual employment or pension relationship not taken into account. For the calculation of the old-age dependency ratio, it is also possible to use age-dependent age demarcations. Other common demarcations are, for example, 60 or 67 years for the beginning of the retirement age.
- Population theme
Migration in times of demographic change
Besides aging, migration is one of the greatest challenges of our time. While demographic aging is a relatively new phenomenon, migration has a thousand-year history. It has shaped the societies of the present and contributed to their transformation.
Since German unification, 7.5 million people have immigrated to Germany on balance. Of these, 1.1 million had German citizenship and 6.4 million foreign citizenship. As immigrants are on average younger than the resident population in Germany, net immigration counteracts aging and steadily rejuvenates the age structure of the population. Immigration will not be able to reverse aging, but it will slow it down.
As a result of migration, people of many different nationalities live in Germany today. In 2016, 9.2 million people, or 11.2% of the population, had a foreign nationality. Most foreign nationals were from Europe (70%) and Asia (21%). Among them, Turkish (15%), Polish (8%), Syrian (6%), Italian (6%) and Romanian (5%) nationals were particularly widespread.
The total number of people with a migration background (including Germans with foreign roots) was about 21.2 million in 2019. Here, too, Europe remains the most important region of origin. However, the importance of other continents has increased in the last five years. In the meantime, 3.2 million people in Germany have their roots in the Near and Middle East. Around 988,000 people are of Afri-can origin.
- Migration and integration
Migration in East and West Germany
Different demographic trends can be observed in East and West Germany. The reasons for this are complex; however, the migration patterns of both regions have a major influence. In eastern Germany, they are partly responsible for the decline and faster aging of the population. In West Germany, on the other hand, they tend to counteract the aging of the population and also contribute to a higher proportion of people with a migration background. This can be attributed both to east-west migration within Germany and to differences in external migration (across Germany’s borders) in the two regions.
East Germany: Migration is slowly declining
Migration in eastern Germany (here without Berlin) was long dominated by migration to the old federal states.
Since German unification in 1990 until 2016, emigration to West Germany has been higher than immigration in all years. The resulting population losses could only be compensated in a few years by immigration from abroad, so that the population in East Germany has declined overall. This development has been exacerbated by the fact that young adults in particular have emigrated. As a result, the population of eastern Germany as a whole has aged more rapidly. In addition, more young women than young men have migrated, which in the past has also led to a deficit of women of childbearing age.
Since 2009, however, out-migration to western Germany has been declining, so that net migration – the difference between in-migration and out-migration – between the new and old federal states is now almost equalized. From 2017 to 2019, there were even positive domestic migration balances for eastern Germany. Since the turn of the millennium, the decline in migration losses among 18- to under-25-year-olds has been particularly noticeable. This is primarily due to the mobility of students, who are increasingly studying in eastern Germany.
In this graph, you can show or hide the lines for the different age groups by clicking on them with the mouse. Holding the mouse pointer over the lines displays the respective values.
Population of West Germany increases due to migration
In the past, West Germany benefited from the out-migration from East to West, also due to the age structure of the immigrants. Due to the higher number of inhabitants, however, the gains for western Germany are not as significant as the losses for eastern Germany.
External migration has a greater influence than east-west migration. Even before German unification, West Germany was characterized by high immigration from abroad. These population gains mean that the number of inhabitants in western Germany continues to rise despite low birth rates. But they also change the structure of the population. Since immigrants are on average younger than the native population, immigration counteracts aging. As a result, the proportion of people with a migration background is also significantly higher in West Germany than in East Germany.
- Topic Migration
- Brochure Universities at a glance on student migration
- Graphical overview of age structure by federal state
Influence of demographic processes on the population structure
Population structure is influenced by demographic processes – fertility, mortality and migration. The chart illustrates how births, deaths and outward migration have changed the population structure over the past 100 years.
The individual birth cohorts from 1919 to 2019 are shown here in the year of their birth on the one hand and in 2019 on the other: The size of the cohort for women (right) and for men (left) in the year of birth is shown with bars. The line contours show the respective birth rates in 2019.
Ups and downs in birth rates cause demographic waves
The number of births has halved during the last hundred years. However, the long-term decline in the birth rate was not continuous and was interrupted several times. In addition to the deep notches that occurred toward the end of the two world wars (in 1917 and 1918 as well as in 1945 and 1946), there were also phases with an increase in the birth rate.
The first increase occurred after 1933 as a result of the family policy of the National Socialists. People born between 1934 and 1941 currently make up a relatively large senior generation in their mid-70s to early 80s, benefiting from increased life expectancy.
The second increase in births began after the Second World War and culminated in the so-called baby boom in the mid-1960s. The high birth rates between 1950 and 1970, with more than one million newborns per year, led to the emergence of a comparatively large generation known as the baby boomers. Subsequently, the number of births dropped significantly, so that the baby boom of the 1960s was followed by the so-called baby bust of the 1970s.
Such birth fluctuations create demographic "waves" that can lead to problematic disparities in the age structure. For a long time, the baby boom ensured a large potential labor force. However, when the baby-boomers gradually reach retirement age over the next few decades and are followed by the significantly weaker cohorts of the 1990s and 2000s, the pay-as-you-go social security systems will be much more heavily burdened than before.
Influence of net immigration and mortality
The middle cohorts were more numerous in 2019 than in the year they were born. This can be explained by migration: When these cohorts were between 17 years old and in their mid-50s, more people of the same age came from abroad than moved away. Since the number of deaths in this age range is also relatively low, the corresponding cohorts gained persons on balance. Nevertheless, the migration surplus could not compensate for the disparities between the age groups caused by birth fluctuations. The current age structure will shape population development over the next three decades.
For birth cohorts born in 1941 and earlier, the influence of mortality rising with age is clearly visible in the chart. Their cohort strength decreased significantly compared to the time of birth.
- Germany’s population between 1950 and 2060 in the animated population pyramid
- Time series on population size and age structure of the population
- Topic Population projection
Future population development
Future changes in the size and – above all – in the age structure of Germany’s population are shown with the help of population projections. These show a range of possible future developments based on the current age structure of the population and the assumptions made regarding the development of birth rates, life expectancy and the balance of migration to and from Germany. The current 14. The coordinated population projection for Germany and the federal states shows the following development up to 2060 on the basis of several variants:
The total population is expected to increase from 83 million in 2018 at least until 2024 and to decline from 2040 at the latest. In 2060, it will be between 74 and 83 million.
The current age structure indicates an increase in the number of seniors and a decrease in the working-age population. The number of people aged 67 and older already rose by 54% between 1990 and 2018, from 10.4 million to 15.9 million. It will grow by a further 5 to 6 million to at least 21 million by 2039 and then remain relatively stable until 2060. The working-age population between the ages of 20 and 66 was 51.8 million in 2018. By 2035, it will decline to between 45.8 and 47.4 million, a decrease of around 4 to 6 million.
By 2060, depending on the assumed migration trend, the number could stabilize or decline further to 40 million. The future development of demographic factors such as birth rate, life expectancy and migration can only influence these processes to a very limited extent.
Regional differences will continue to increase. Assuming a moderate development of birth rates, life expectancy and net immigration, the population in the western German states will decline by 4% and in the eastern German states by 18% by 2060. In contrast, it will increase by 10% in urban states.
- Population of Germany between 1950 and 2060 in the animated population pyramid
- Topic Population projection (WISTA 4/2016)
Population development in eastern and western Germany between 1990 and 2019: convergence or consolidation of differences?
The German unification on 3. October 1990 triggered strong demographic changes, especially in East Germany. Declining birth rates, migration of mainly young people to the western states, and rising life expectancy accelerated the demographic aging of the eastern German population. In western Germany, on the other hand, stronger immigration from abroad and in-migration from the new federal states have slowed down the aging process. Despite a clear convergence, even after 30 years of German unification, typical demographic development patterns in West Germany and East Germany are still recognizable.
Rising population in the west and declining population in the east of Germany
At the time of German unification in 1990, about 62 million people lived in West Germany (here: former territory of the Federal Republic without West Berlin). There were four times as many as in the eastern German states (excluding Berlin) with their then approx. 15 million inhabitants. While the population in western Germany grew by 9% to 67 million between 1990 and 2019, it declined by 15% to 12.5 million in the east during the same period. Thus, in 2019, five times as many people lived in western Germany as in eastern German states. These different developments result from changes in the population due to migration, births and deaths.
More people migrate to West Germany from abroad than to East Germany
Between 1991 and 2019, the Federal Republic grew by about 8.7 million people due to positive net migration, i.e. the difference between inflows to and outflows from Germany. If you disregard Berlin, net immigration from abroad during this period in the east amounted to about 900,000 persons. In the West, the migration gain was about eight times as large, at nearly 7.3 million people.
The initially strong migration from east to west reversed
In the period from 1991 to 2019, about 1.2 million more people migrated from east to west than vice versa. About half of this strong migration can be traced back to the first 10 years since reunification: By the year 2000, on balance, about 611,000 people left the East for West Germany. In the following 10 years until 2010, on balance, about 553,000 people still migrated from east to west. In the 2010s, this trend slowed significantly, with net migration from east to west totaling about 64,000 people between 2011 and 2019. Since 2017, for the first time in the history of the Federal Republic, slightly more people have migrated annually from the western German states to the east than from east to west.
The loss of emigration for the east is due in particular to the outflow of people of younger and middle age: On balance, the East has lost a total of more than 720,000 persons in the age group up to 25 years to the West since reunification, and about 514,000 persons between 25 and 65 years of age. Migration of senior citizens accounts for only a small proportion of east-west migration.
In the west and in the east, the number of deaths is higher than the number of births
In both parts of Germany, almost 2 million more people died between 1990 and 2019 than – children were born. This corresponded to an average annual population decline of 1 person per 1000 in western Germany and 5 people per 1000 in eastern Germany.
Population-relevant changes are not fully reflected here, as migration to and from Berlin in particular is not included.
Aging is progressing faster in the east
Across the country, the population has been aging: Between 1990 and 2019, the share of people under 20 has fallen from about 22% to 18% while the share of seniors (65 years and older) has risen from 15% to 22%. However, this development is progressing faster in the east. In 1990, the population in the east was younger than in the west: the share of under-20s was 25% in the east and 21% in the west (in both cases excluding Berlin), while those aged 65 and over accounted for 14% of the population in the east and 15% in the west. Over time, this ratio has reversed: in 2019, the share of under-20s in the east was lower, at 17%, than in the west, at nearly 19%. At the same time, the share of people aged 65 and older was higher in the east (26%) than in the west (21%).
However, a new trend has been emerging since 2011. The number of under-20s increased by 288,000 in eastern Germany between 2011 and 2019 (+16%). The corresponding increase in the west, on the other hand, was much weaker (+130,000 or +1%).
Proportion of foreign population significantly lower in east than in west
While 5 million foreigners lived in the West (8% of the population) at the end of 1990, the number of foreigners in the East was 112,000 (1%). The foreign population has increased everywhere since reunification, but differences remain: For example, at the end of 2019, the foreign population represents 14% (9 million) of the population in the West and 5% (631,000) in the East. The different migration patterns in the east and west are also visible in the composition of the foreign population: the share of nationals from guest worker countries (including current EU members) in the foreign population at the end of 2019 is significantly higher in the west (40%) than in the east (12%). The proportion of EU citizens is also higher in the west than in the east (44% and. 35 %), with this difference mainly due to the former guest worker countries Spain, Italy, Greece and Croatia. In contrast, nationalities from Asia (37%), especially from refugee countries (Syrians, Afghans) are more common in the east than in the west (20%). The different migration histories are also reflected in the length of stay: While 19 % of foreigners living in the west were already in Germany 30 years ago, only 3 % were in the east.
Although Berlin is located in the eastern part of Germany, it has a special population structure and development
After the ups and downs of the 1990s, Berlin has seen a steady increase in population since 2005. At the end of 2019, its population was 3.7 million, about 7% larger than in 1990 (3.4 million people). The main contributors to this population increase were gains from migration across Germany’s borders (+530,000 people) and from the western states (+149,000 in all. At the same time, Berlin lost 203,000 people due to migration to the new federal states (especially Brandenburg) and 78,000 people due to the excess of deaths over births. In terms of migration history, Berlin shows more similarities with West Germany than with East Germany.
Despite convergence in birth patterns, mothers in the east are more common and younger than in the west
In unified Germany, a total of more than 22 million children were born between 1990 and 2019. Most of them were born in West Germany. Only 3 million or 14 % of babies are born in the eastern German states. At the beginning of the 1990s, during the serious decline in births, only one child in ten was born in the East. Only since the mid-2000s has the birth rate in east and west Germany converged, and in the last decade it has even been slightly higher in the east than in the west. For every 10 children born in Germany today, 8 are born in the West and 2 in the East.
At the time of German unification, mothers were significantly younger at the time of their first birth in the east (23 years on average) than in the west (about 27 years). In 2019, this difference has been reduced to one year: 30 years in the West versus 29 years in the East.
There are still significant differences in the prevalence of childlessness. In 2018, the share of women without children of their own among all 45- to 49-year-olds was still significantly higher in western Germany (22%) than in eastern Germany (15%), although since unification childlessness has risen faster in the east than in the west.
Although births to unmarried parents are more widespread today in both East and West than in 1990, the differences remain pronounced. Nonmarital births were almost twice as common in the east in 2019 (56%) than in the west (29%). In 1990, they accounted for 35 % and 10 % of all births respectively.
The life expectancy of East Germans has rapidly approached the West German level
If we look at the development of life expectancy at birth since German unification in the new federal states and in the former federal territory, the rapid adjustment of life expectancy in the new federal states to that of the former federal territory becomes clear. In the early 1990s, there was still a difference in life expectancy at birth between the two parts of the country of more than 3 years for men and more than 2 years for women in favor of the West. Within seven years, the difference has been halved to 1.6 years for men and reduced even more to 0.6 years for women. In the following years, the difference in life expectancy for men decreased further to 1.3 years and has now stabilized at about this level. In the meantime, hardly any difference can be observed among women. In the current surveys, the life expectancy at birth of women in the states in the east is even marginally higher in this respect. Improvements in medical care and general living conditions in the new Lander are believed to have contributed to this rapid adjustment.
Number of marriages has fallen significantly since 1990 in both the west and east of Germany
In the eastern German states, there were only half as many civil marriages in 1991 as in 1990. In western Germany, on the other hand, the number of marriages initially declined only slightly and was then a quarter lower in the mid-2000s than in 1990. In both areas, the number of marriages then increased again. Currently, there are about a third fewer marriages in the east and about a sixth fewer in the west than in 1990.
The proportion of couples bringing joint children into the marriage still varies widely 30 years after unification. In the West, about 5% of couples had joint premarital children at marriage, compared with over 25% in the East. This proportion increased in both parts of Germany. In 2019, nearly 20% of parents in the West and nearly 40% in the East brought joint children into the marriage. The proportion of children born outside marriage in the east is twice as high as in the west.
Divorces: In both the West and the East, about half of divorced couples have minor children
In eastern Germany, the number of divorces plummeted after German reunification. In addition to all the other changes, this was also due to the fact that, at the 3. October 1990, the West German divorce law was introduced, which generally provides for divorce only after a separation of one year. After only a few years, the number of divorces in the East increased again, reaching the 1990 level between 2000 and 2005. In western Germany, on the other hand, divorces increased after 1990 and reached their maximum in the early 2000s. In both parts of the country, the number of divorces then declined again. Currently, slightly more marriages are divorced in the western states than in 1990, and about 30% fewer in eastern Germany.
Today, in both the West and the East, about half of the divorced couples have minor children. In the mid-1990s, however, only 30% of divorces in the East involved underage children.