What’s going to happen to Germany?

What’s going to happen to Germany? August 7, 2013

With respect to the birth rate, that is.

Their TFR (total fertility rate) is 1.4 children per woman, with a growing percentage of woman remaining childless and large numbers of only children.  (I would assume that, just as for France — per my post from the other day — the rate is even lower for ethnic German women, balanced out by a higher rate for immigrant = Turkish women.)  It’s one of a number of countries whose populations are already beginning to decline and are expected to decline significantly in the coming decades, with an extreme age-pyramid imbalance.  What’s going to happen when the Germans (and Japanese, and Italians, and — especially — the Chinese) have to support an ever-greater percentage of elderly?  We really don’t know.

One thing that’s interesting to observe is that there isn’t anything “natural” about a TFR of 2, that is, more or less, replacement rate (actually 2.1).  Yes, many people have the image of 2 children being “just right” (especially in the ideal boy + girl pairing), and in some ways, our society has promoted that as the ideal — just as population-controlling societies have promoted one child as the ideal (and been successful, in the way, for instance, that urban Chinese now do see one child as “just right”), and population-growing societies have promoted big families.  (Side note:  large families have often been the result of government policy — in Iran after the revolution, or China after the communists took power — rather than just “backwards” peasants or people deprived of modern contraception.) 

But why is the German birth rate so low?  Partly because it’s a progressive paradise. 

Look at Oregon with its urban growth boundaries.  German’s not too far from this — a very deliberate set of land use policies that mean that most people, even in small towns, live in apartments, and in the cities, not just single-family, but even rowhouses are beyond the reach of most people.  As a result, mass transit options are abundant, and even from the city-center, it’s easy to get out into nature.  Also, cars are expensive (pollution controls, taxes) and small (to fit into small parking spots, and to cope with the high gas taxes).

And this is all well and good — but not conducive to having kids.  For the same reasons that young American middle-class city-dwellers move out to the suburbs when they start their families, and trade their Prius for a minivan, increasingly many Germans simply choose not to start a family at all, or have single-child families. (To be sure, there are other issues: German schools end at midday, and the nearly-free preschool doesn’t start ’til age 3 — subsidized infant care exists but is hard to find — so one has to arrange for childcare.   But in the US, the fact that families generally pay the full cost of childcare themselves hasn’t prevented them from having children.)  But just how many kids can you fit in a Fiat 500, anyway?

""subtract 1"Don't you mean "subtract from 1"?"

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