Not even a million migrants will reverse Germany’s looming demographic decline

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Image: Reuters/Michaela Rehle
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Germany has registered its biggest population jump in more than 20 years. The overall population rose by 978,000 in 2015, a 1.2% increase.

The total now stands at 82.2 million. It’s been growing for the last few years after a worrying decline in the first decade of the 2000s.

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This increase is largely due to Germany’s record influx of migrants, according to the Federal Statistics Office. The European economic powerhouse took in just over one million asylum-seekers last year—more than the US has in the past 10 years.

The incoming migrants were spread evenly across the country; each German state received a quota based on its population and tax revenue. The European Union tried to enforce a similar resettlement quota among other member countries last year, but with far less success.

While the record number of migrants entering the country will slightly increase the population, not even a million migrants will reverse Germany’s long-term population decline. Olga Poetzsch, a spokesperson for the Federal Statistics Office, said that a look at the past shows that phases of high net immigration to Germany are usually followed by sharp drops.

“In the ’90s, for instance, net immigration went down from levels of almost 800,000 to levels of less than 100,000 within a few years,” Poetzsch says. Last year, German chancellor Angela Merkel said she’d bring an end to the open door policy on migrants, and there’s already been a drop in migrant arrivals this year.

The latest population projections still predict a long-term shrinkage, for two reasons, says Poetzsch. The large cohort of “baby boomers” (those born between 1955 and 1965, approximately) will start to die off, pushing annual deaths above one million. At the same time, the number of women of child-bearing age will decrease. Even if the birth rate jumped from 1.4 to 1.6 children per woman, overall births would still decline in the long term.

“Developments in fertility and mortality that might prevent such high numbers for the deficit of births are currently not in sight,” Poetzsch adds.

However, even as she tightens the screws on immigration, Merkel is keen to quickly integrate those migrants who do come in, to soften the impact of an aging workforce. The influx of refugees is expected to boost Germany’s GDP growth by around 0.25 percentage points this year, according to Berlin-based economic institute DIW Berlin.

Last year, Merkel called on migrants to learn German quickly and find work. And she plans to meet with the heads of Germany’s biggest companies  next month—including Siemens and Volkswagen—to persuade them to hire more migrants.