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The numbers behind Germany’s demographic nightmare

German soccer fans react after Ronaldo scored Brazil's 1-0 against Germany in the World Cup Finals in Japan.
Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay
Yes, it's that bad.
  • Jason Karaian
By Jason Karaian

Global finance and economics editor

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Germany may be Europe’s economic growth engine, but there’s one thing that the country is failing to produce in big numbers: Germans.

New population projections by Germany’s statistics agency show that the country’s population—81.1 million in 2014—is on a path of inexorable decline. Depending on assumptions about immigration, Germany’s population will grow weakly in the next few years before turning down for good. By 2060, the population will fall to between 68 million and 73 million people, a loss of between 8 million and 13 million residents from today’s level:

The plain-speaking statisticians describe their forecasts rather starkly:

In the long term, a decline in Germany’s population is inevitable. The number of deaths will increasingly exceed the number of births. The positive balance of immigration into and emigration from Germany cannot close this gap for good.

The implications for Germany’s workforce are grim, with the share of Germans between 20 and 64 years of age expected to shrink from around 60% today to 50% in 2060. Despite a recent rise in immigration, the ranks of newcomers have failed to keep up with the fall in native birth rates—an issue across much of Europe.

Germany’s foreign-born population is similar to that in other big European countries. Also like several other European countries, growing discontent with migrants has spawned anti-immigration movements that are putting pressure on politicians to tighten border policies. At the same time, a long period of underinvestment in public projects bodes ill for boosting Germany’s long-term productivity, which will be crucial to maintain economic growth as its workforce shrinks and its population ages. (There will be more than 180,000 centenarians in Germany in 2060, up from around 16,000 today.)

Relative to its sickly euro zone neighbors, the export-driven German economy is the best thing going in the region right now. But demographically speaking, the long-term prospects for Germany aren’t great.

The German statistics office has produced this whizzy online tool with animated population pyramids based on its projections. The charts are pretty to look at, but the message they deliver is ugly indeed.

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