Consequences of Enduring Low Fertility – A German Case Study. Demographic Projections and Implications for Different Policy Fields
Compared to all other countries in the world, Germany has been a “low-fertility country” for a longer period: the total fertility rate has been below 1.5 for four decades. Being the first to experience this development, a case study of Germany allows analysing the consequences of an enduring birth decline. In Germany, low fertility is also an increasingly big issue in politics as well as science, especially due to its extensive consequences on several policy fields that already become visible. However, the assessment of the consequences differs tremendously when it comes either to its intensity or to the question whether ageing or rather population decline is the more severe problem. Differentiated by these two processes, this article combines demographic analysis with the assessment of the consequences for different policy fields such as pensions, health, the economy, the labour market, culture, the EU, international relations and the party system.
For all these policy fields, the consequences are serious, and partly ambivalent but overall negative. The occurrence of the consequences and the different policy options how to deal with these consequences differ considerably between the policy fields. Ageing is a more severe problem than shrinking, because the severe changes in the age structure in the social security system that will take place until 2040 apply to most Germans and are inevitable. On the other hand, the population decline can still be avoided demographically and does not affect all inhabitants negatively. Regarding the consequences of a declining population, one has to differentiate between an individual and a national perspective. National consequences are rather negative due to a decline of international influence and power, especially within the European Union. The study also demonstrates that the long-term consequences of enduring low fertility are not necessarily negative for political competition, the culture, the labour market and the economy, if appropriate political action is taken. The analysis also identifies possible future demographic and political parameters. Thus, this case study is relevant for other low-fertility countries, which will have to face similar demographic processes in the future.