How voluntary work aids the regions
A study on the consequences of population shrinking and ageing for German regions
Demographic change in Germany is happening at an ever faster pace: The population size has decreased by some 800,000 people after peaking in 2002. Enterprise staffs are ageing and the large cohorts of the baby boomers will be entering retirement age before this decade is out.
At regional level the demographic shifts are felt most heavily. About half of all German counties and independent municipalities have lost more than one percent of their populations since 2002 – many of them, especially in the East, even more.
Yet, the once readily observable fault-line between East and West is about to disappear: As fertility rates have bounced back in the East after bottoming out in the 1990s and as many rural areas in the West have become subject to low birth rates and out-migration too, demographic change has developed into a crisis of peripheral areas. Many remote regions are losing attractiveness due to cuts in infrastructure services such as schools and health care facilities. This leads to a renaissance of urban areas, in particular those that boast educational opportunities and strong labour markets. Especially the economic front-runner regions of Southern and South-Western Germany are profiting by this development.
In order to describe and analyse regional developments, the Berlin Institute for Population and Development has created a sustainability index comprising demographic, economic and social indicators.
In the final assessment, 15 Bavarian counties and independent municipalities as well as three districts of Baden-Württemberg rank among the top 20. However, two districts of East Germany, Potsdam and Jena, have also made the cut. This comes at the expense of counties of Baden-Württemberg above all, which are less present in the top ranks than they were in 2006. A major reason for this is the recent economic crisis, which hit export-dependent manufacturing industries especially hard. Potsdam, on the other hand, has climbed the ladder, as it has become a popular place to live for well-off families from Berlin. Jena, next to Dresden, Leipzig and Erfurt, belongs to the handful of metropolises in the East, which can rely on stable demographics and promising economic developments.
At the bottom of the sustainability table, counties of the East dominate – mainly of Saxony-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and Brandenburg. East Germany thus remains a demographic trouble area. However, some counties of the West exemplify that even there the trend points downward: Especially old industrial counties of the Ruhr region (Gelsenkirchen, Recklinghausen, Herne), Bremerhaven as well as Goslar and Osterode am Harz, which are located close to the former German-German border, are registering low birth rates and a rapid ageing of society as well as out-migration and serious economic problems.
Demographic stability or even growth will be limited to but a few regions in Germany. They include metropolitan areas such as Hamburg, Cologne/Bonn, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Berlin and Munich. The Munich agglomeration spearheads this development: Despite its elevated price level, qualified youth are flowing to the area, which extends to Nuremberg, Ingolstadt and Regensburg. Alongside big cities, some rural areas boasting smaller local centres and an economic backbone of medium-sized businesses are relatively well-off demographically, among them the Oldenburger Münsterland in the West of Lower Saxony and the Northern parts of North Rhine-Westphalia.
In contrast to the demographic trend, the economic situation has improved considerably over the past few years. This is not only because unemployed has diminished virtually everywhere, but also because employment rates have soared, especially among females and the elderly. At approximately 41 million people, Germany’s employed population is now larger than ever before. These positive developments can be interpreted as some initial steps to counter those demographic changes that will result in a lower number of people of working-age and a growing number of pensioners, for whom society will have to care financially.
Clearly, the consequences ofdemographic change will be easier to deal with if the current trend resumes. Society has not only become more productive, but it has also increased its level of education: As compared to some years ago, more high-school graduates enter university and fewer youth leave high-school without a degree. The new German family policy has made it easier for qualified women to combine family and career. Only in terms of migration policy, Germany has not adapted to demographic change and potential labour shortages in the future. Paralysed by its shortcomings in integrating migrants, the country has virtually sealed itself off from further immigration. Temporarily, Germany had even become a net emigration country. For years, immigrants have been too few in number to compensate for the natural population decline caused by a surplus of deaths over births. By 2050 the total shrinkage will have amounted to some twelve million people – roughly the combined size of Germany’s twelve biggest cities, from Berlin to Leipzig.
Click here to view the full German version of the study (PDF MB).
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