"Bold solutions are missing"
Many branches of industry are engaged in a desperate search for workers. Experts at the Institute for Employment Research (Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung) see only one way out: annual net immigration of 400,000 people. Without a targeted immigration strategy, they say, the number of people in the workforce will drop by 7.2 million by 2035 as a result of continuing demographic change. In Germany, since 1972, there have been fewer children being born than people dying every year. Not only is the labour supply threatening to decline, but the population would have been shrinking for the past 50 years if the reduction had not been offset by immigration.
“Demographic change will markedly change the conditions necessary for the development of prosperity and the quality of life in the coming years and decades in Germany,” is how the German Federal Ministry of the Interior sums up the situation in its report “A Cross-Cutting View of Demographic Policy” published on 26 October 2021 at the end of the last legislative period of Parliament. “Our society is becoming older,” the report continues, “and – in the long term, at least – population levels will probably shrink. It will also become more diverse – through immigration, among other things.” While earlier predictions forecast a decline in the size of the population, since the 1990s some demographic parameters have developed differently from what was expected. In particular, since 2011 the strong influx of labour from EU countries and of people from crisis regions have led to the current situation of 83.2 million people living in Germany – more than ever before.
However, regional differences will be influencing demographic developments. In its study entitled “The Demographic State of the Nation”, the Berlin Institute for Population and Development states that by 2035 some regions will benefit from demographic change, while others will face considerable challenges. “All five federal states in eastern Germany must expect drops in their population, in some cases substantial. Rural areas in western Germany, as well as structurally weak former industrial centres in the Ruhr Area and the Saarland, will all lose residents,” the experts forecast. “On the other hand, today’s attractive cities in both eastern and western Germany – Hamburg, Berlin, Leipzig, Frankfurt and Munich – can expect population gains, especially through younger people and young professionals. In the states in eastern Germany there are the fastest shrinking districts and there is the fastest growing city.”
Accordingly, by 2035 the different age groups will also develop differently. Among those under the age of 20, a slight increase can be expected due to high levels of immigration and the slightly higher birth rate since 2012. The forecasts say that the strongest demographic slump will occur in the 20-64 age group, in other words among the traditional working population, because in the years leading up to 2035 the baby boomer generation – those born between 1955 and 1970 – will be retiring. Accordingly, the biggest rise in population will be in the 65+ age group.
Society can make use of the consequences of demographic change: “We shouldn’t look at just the negative aspects,” says Dr. Guido Hertel, Professor of Organisational and Business Psychology at the University of Münster. “We should also look at the opportunities – such as mixed-age diversity as a resource for innovation and creativity; using the experience of older members of the workforce; making working conditions and working times more flexible; improving health protection through designing work processes in a manner compatible with ageing; and longer, more self-determined lives. The way we design our lives must be adapted to the challenges. What we lack are bold solutions.”
Although the world’s population is currently growing, decreasing population numbers will turn out to be a global challenge in the long term. Current population forecasts by the United Nations show clearly that countries which have higher birth rates now, but which will have negative natural balances in the foreseeable future, will include densely populated countries such as China and Brazil.
This article was first published in the University newspaper wissen|leben, No. 1, 2 February 2022.