Different Demographic Developments in Denmark and Germany

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2004

30 Pages, Grade: 1,3




Table of Abbreviations

Table of Figures

1. Demographic Situation
1.1. The Demographic Situation in Denmark
1.2. The Demographic Situation in Germany

2. Women’s Employment and Birth Behaviour
2.1. How Do the Danes Manage to Balance Family and Profession?
2.2. How Do the Germans Manage to Balance Family and Profession?

3. National and Private Childcare
3.1. The Quality of Childcare in Denmark
3.2. The Quality of Childcare in Germany

4. Influence of the Media on the National Birth Rate
4.1. The Germans and their Penchant for Pessimism
4.2. The Direct and Indirect Effects of a Ruthless Press Coverage

5. Summary




The quotation was published in several larger German newspapers. It was clear, brief and brought to light what has long been an open secret. The short quotation dealt with today’s anti-children attitude in Germany’s society and was in the judgement of most people not more than an element that fills in the papers’ blanks. However, for the young generation – especially for the group of prospective parents, but also for current families – the mentioned remark was definitely more than in a good position only. Even far more than this.

As a matter of fact, the quotation directly addressed both population groups – the childless group as well as the group of parents – for the remark represented a bitter realisation for the first group and a late acknowledgement for the latter. Something that had always been anticipated suddenly became much more real. The abstract idea of a society without regard to children was in fact omnipresent but not concrete enough. Every now and then, one read about Germans that are hostile to children, about the disadvantaging of families with many children and about the families’ negative image. Yet, people had already been accustomed to the ‘normal’ pessimism and defeatism of their German fellow men. Therefore, one dismissed society’s medial prophecies of doom as a mere exaggeration of the plain truth. Prophecies that purely serve to increase the papers’ number of copies and improve the audience rating, respectively.

However, the notion that the mentioned quotation does not queue in the general Cassandra-shouting tenor originates from the explanation that usually stands below a quotation indicating the source or the remark’s originator. The conspicuous sentence did not stem from just anybody and it did also not arise from the creative pen of a BILD-editor. The quotation’s originator was no less than the present Federal President of Germany – Horst Köhler. But now one came to the conclusion that the newspaper’s aim was neither to take up the yellow press’ preference for eye-catching elements nor to call attention to a new horror scenario. On the contrary; here on was confronted with something that needed to be taken much more seriously. Something that could not be ignored and laughed off as an irrelevance. Here, Germany’s head of state said something that did not only make waves among prospective parents. It rather equalled a social oath of manifestation. Horst Köhler’s remark was: “The person who has children is tendentially victimised in this country” (Wer Kinder hat, wird hierzulande tendenziell bestraft).

At first sight, this little story does not seem to be dramatic and not directly relevant for this assignment’s topic, respectively. Nonetheless, it is obvious that the words of Germany’s head of state have a considerable impact on society’s members. The Federal President has a substantial influence on the country’s immaterial, cultural and mental forces of the national life. In his position as a political adviser and assistant, the President can help the professional politicians to get to the self-discovery. Moreover, he gives the direction of the state and thus the mindset of its inhabitants. In short: any statement of Horst Köhler can be regarded as extremely meaningful being of paramount importance for the community’s welfare. However, the initially mentioned statement does not aim at emphasising the society’s nuisances only. It can rather be considered as a thought-provoking impulse to galvanise the politics and the country’s various interest groups in order to change the current situation.

Yet, it should be pointed out that such important pronouncements have sometimes the opposite effect, viz. that they make the situation worse instead of improving it. This clearly applies to Köhler’s public comment. Hence, one can certainly suppose that thousands and thousands of young people read these words and either felt affirmed in their preconceived views or they all of a sudden realised that things do not look too bright for the government’s family policy. In the thought experience one can certainly hypothesise that Horst Köhler’s sentence has induced numerous potential parents to definitely drop the idea of treating oneself to children. Parents with children are “tendentially victimised” after all; and this is not the opinion of just anybody but the one of the President.

How badly things are going on in terms of Germany’s offspring that the author puts the aforementioned sentence at the beginning of the present paper? And in what way is Germany alone with its – if actually existing – demographic problem.

Against this background, this assignment deals with the demographic developments in Germany compared with the population dynamics of its neighbour country Denmark. In this context, the author raises the question to what extent both countries differ from each other. At the same time, however, this paper’s subtitle already indicates that the situation is much more advantageous in Scandinavia. Therefore, Denmark obviously features better general conditions for the foundation of families including the aspect that the Danish natality is not that dramatic.

Furthermore, the present paper goes also into the matter, what the current situation looks like in both countries. What are the challenges of the future? What has been done so far to counter the future changes, and how important are national reforms to promote a sustainable climate of a sound demographic development.

In this context, one could also ask: What are the reasons for a declining population? What are the effects of this development and what influences do these developments have on the society as a whole? Does the enormous decline in the birth rate only concern Germany? Is Denmark doing so much better; or are there also in this country first signs bespeaking a dramatic fall in the birth rate? Furthermore, one can ponder if the issue of falling birth rates is supposed to be a European problem. Or is it even a problem of the entire Western World? Are there actually ways out of the demographic crisis? Or are we straight heading for changes and developments that simply need to be accepted?

Finally, one can also raise the question in what way population forecasts apply in the future? Did the past not show that the statistical predictions frequently deviate from the real conditions in a considerable manner? Are the demographic developments eventually not as dramatic as previously predicted? Do we even concentrate on a social problem that is in the end only blown out into the challenge of the future by the various horror scenarios in the media?

As these questions indicate, there are numerous other aspects that one could ask against the given background. But let us not only consider questions – let’s find some answers!

Stralsund, July 2004 Stephan Dannehl

Table of Abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Table of Figures

Fig. 1 Selected Basic Indicators of Denmark and Germany

Fig. 2 Development of the Danish Population in the Period 1970-2004

Fig. 3 Germany’s Population and the Annual Absolute Changes

Fig. 4 More Children Will not Help

Fig. 5 Government Wants to Improve the Baby-care

1. Demographic Situation

1.1. The Demographic Situation in Denmark

Before having a look at a detailed overview of the current demographic situation in Denmark, let us first refer to the following comparison.

Fig 1: Selected Basic Indicators of Denmark and Germany

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Sources: Statistisches Bundesamt Deutschland (2004) / Danmarks Statistik (2004).

* CIA World Factbook (2004). ** BMFSFJ (2003a).

As can be seen in the table, Denmark has a population of 5.4 million inhabitants. Since the year 1970, the size of the population has steadily increased though the increase has been taken place at a moderate pace (figure 2).

Fig. 2: Development of the Danish Population in the Period 1970-2004

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Danmarks Statistik (2004).

At the moment, the growth rate of the population corresponds to 0.35 percent. As in virtually all European countries the Danish population is getting older. At the beginning of 2004, the average age in Denmark was 39.5 years (1980ies: 36.7 years). In addition, people can nowadays expect to live longer than just a few years ago. For instance, the latest life expectancy of the Danes has been calculated at 74.7 for men and 79.2 for women. Comparing the numbers for 1995/96 and 2001/2002, this represents an increase of 1.8 year for men and 1.2 year for women. As a result of Denmark’s ageing population, one can definitely anticipate a considerable shift in the age structure. The then term of an age pyramid can therefore be regarded as an obsolete expression (appendix I).

In the year 2002, the total fertility rate – i.e. the average number of live births per woman – constituted 1.7 which was above the EU-15 average of about 1.5.[1] However, it is said that every woman in a given country ought to bear at least 2.1 children to ensure an adequate generational replacement (in German: Generationenersatz). This means: in order that the generation of the children approximately corresponds to the generation of the parents (at the time of the children’s adulthood), the parent generation ought to bear 2.1 children. In Europe, only Ireland’s women were nearby this value. Here the fertility rate constituted 2.0 (For comparison only: Somalia 7.2, Iraq 5.4, USA 2.0, and China 1.7).

1.2. The Demographic Situation in Germany

“The higher the l ife expectancy in a country, the lower the birth rate.”

Horst W. Opaschowski,

‘researcher of the future’ and policy adviser at the University Hamburg

With a total population of 82.5 million, Germany is said to have reached its peak in terms of the population size. At the moment, the population growth rate ranges between a minute increase and the zero mark, and has according to Germany’s Federal Statistical Office – the Statistisches Bundesamt – already fallen below the zero level (figure 3). The demographic development in Germany is therefore already characterised by a decline in the total population. Consequently, the fall in population together with the increasing ageing population and the connected shift in the age structure will bring about enormous changes.

Fig. 3: Germany’s Population and the Annual Absolute Changes

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Statistisches Bundesamt (2004a).

To make the situation even worse: this alarming process is considered to be irreversible – at least from today’s perspective. Even in case the fertility rate of the average German woman suddenly change to a level above the mentioned 2.1, the decline in population will not become inverted (figure 4).

Fig. 4: More Children Will not Help

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Walter (18th March 2004).

According to the German Ministry of Family Matters, Senior citizens, Woman and Youth (BMFSFJ), the process of the ageing population is characterised by the following:

- a declining number and a decreasing share in younger people, and
- a growing number and an increasing share in senior citizens.

This demographic ageing consists of two sub-processes, so to speak. The population gets older from the bottom (due to a long-term low level of fertility and a growing childlessness) and from the top (due to a higher life expectancy of the seniors, see also appendix V). Especially the low fertility as well as the German preference for childlessness matter. In fact, within the EU Germany belongs to the countries with the lowest birth rates and the highest proportions of permanent childless people (BMFSFJ, 2003a, p. 88).

In particular, Germany’s small number of children appears in the annual total fertility and the number of children of the natal age-groups with a largely completed fertility phase. However, the extent of fertility and childless people significantly varies within Germany. The eastern states of Germany, for instance, feature a much higher number of families with children as compared to the western states. The German average is therefore even much above the one of the former federal territory. As a consequence, the extent of a permanent childlessness is in Hamburg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria and Co. higher than in all other countries of the EU.

Furthermore, German demographers clearly see differences in the distribution of childlessness. According to the population research of the BMFSFJ (2003a, p. 74) the following groups of people remain more frequently childless:

- Men compared to woman,
- German compared to foreigners,
- Single persons and divorcees compared to married people, and
- Higher educated people compared to persons with a lower level of education.

By picking up just two of the mentioned groups, the following paragraph deals with the birth behaviour of married people as well as higher educated persons.

As indicated in the findings of the BMFSFJ, there is close connection between marriages and births. Although many a European country features an increasing tendency to unmarried couples with children, it should be pointed out that families remain to be the central ‘stronghold’ of Germany’s offspring.[2] To give the reader an impression of how lasting the effect of marriages is on the birth rates, it has been figured out that the number of marriage ceremonies clearly correlates with the number of births. Hence, if weddings go down, absolute birth rates go down, as well (appendix VI).

Apart from the fact that those setting up a family in Germany are in an increasing age, it is also worthwhile mentioning that there is a discernible downward trend of marriages with children and a noticeable upward trend of childless matrimonies. In the year 2003, for instance, the number of childless married couples surpassed the number of married couples with children by 400,000 (appendix VII).

Coming to the birth behaviour of higher educated people, the Statistisches Bundesamt (IWD, 2003a, p. 8) points out that in 2001 about 42 percent (1991: 31%) of all female university graduates between 35 and 40 did not have children. Yet, the number of 42 percent did only apply to Western Germany. In the eastern states of Germany, the number amounted to only 17 percent (1991: 14%). An extended family is even out of the question for the majority for female graduates (only every twelfth graduate; appendix X+XI). The trend towards childless career women is also in line with the findings of Opaschowski (2004, p. 51) who stresses “the higher the per capita income, the lower the per capita birth rate”. This, however, is not only alarming under the demographic viewpoint. In addition, it will certainly not inspire the school achievements of the generations to come; for the children’s learning efficiency is in this country dependent on the educational background of the mother (finding of the PISA study / IWD, 2003a, p. 8).


[1] Note: The Danish fertility rate of 1.7 signifies that 100 Danish women bore 170 children on an average. For an overview of fertility rates in Europe, please see appendix II).

[2] Note: Here the word “family” does not only refer to a companionship of two parents with at least one child but also to a marital relationship.

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Different Demographic Developments in Denmark and Germany
Stralsund University of Applied Sciences
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Stephan Dannehl (Author), 2004, Different Demographic Developments in Denmark and Germany, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/48281


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