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40 Years of Research, Consulting, Information

The Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB) celebrated its 40th anniversary on 21 June 2013 in Wiesbaden, Germany

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the BiB, the instute organised an event on the topic of "Demographic Development in Germany – Current Controversies and Future Options" on June 21st in the Kurhaus Wiesbaden. Apart from a look back at the past 40 years of the institute and a look forward at the future direction, the focus was especially on the scientific sessions of "Ageing of the Society: Gained Years or Threatened Wealth?", "Fertility Development in Germany as a Mega Topic in Science and Politics" and "Immigration as a Strategy to Deal with the Demographic Change", which were discussed by renowned personalities from science, society and politics.

High Level of Policy Advice by the BiB

The first speaker was the State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Cornelia Rogall-Grothe, who provided a brief retrospective of the history of the Institute, indicating that there had been no demographic research in the Federal Republic until the year in which the BiB was established, and also that the challenges faced by society today had been largely unknown at that time. The current significance of the topic of demographic change was also shown by the fact that the Federal Government had drawn up a demography report and a Demographic Strategy since 2009, the BiB playing a major role here. She praised the high level of policy advice of the BiB, which she said had enhanced and re-orientated its academic skills since 2009. Policy-makers sought the advice of the Institute and also accepted it, she stated.
The close connection between the BiB and the Federal Statistical Office from the outset was then emphasised by the President of the Office, Roderich Egeler, in his welcoming speech. The BiB had, ultimately, come into the world under the umbrella of the Federal Statistical Office.
Research director, Reiner Schulz, who has worked at the BiB for 36 years, outlined how the Institute came to be established and how it has developed in the 40 years of its existence.

The BiB as a Multiperspectivistic Institute

Photo: Cornelia Rogall-Grothe, Prof. Norbert Schneider, Roderich Egeler, Dr. Sabine Bechtold, Reiner Schulz and Dr. Jürgen Dorbritz 40th Anniversary of the BiBCornelia Rogall-Grothe, Prof. Norbert Schneider, Roderich Egeler, Dr. Sabine Bechtold, Reiner Schulz and Dr. Jürgen Dorbritz (f.l.t.r.)

The Director of the BiB, Prof. Dr. Norbert F. Schneider, noted in his address that the BiB primarily carried out population research and not demography, and as a multiperspectivistic institute analysed and scientifically interpreted the demographic circumstances. The BiB had a clear position here: Demographic change was a challenge which had to be taken very seriously and would make great demands on society, but there was certainly no reason to "catastrophise" it, emphasised the sociologist, who showed himself to be quite optimistic that it would be overcome. The Institute, which is located at the crossing point between academia, the political arena and the public, would also continue to help ensure that the opportunities for change would be better recognised and that it would remain possible to overcome the consequences, according to the director.
The subsequent blocks of topics went on to deal with the topics of "Ageing society", "Fertility development in Germany as a mega topic in science and politics" and "Immigration as a strategy for dealing with demographic change?".

Ageing: Departure from Traditional Perceptions of Age

In the first round of discussions on the topic "An ageing society: added years or a threat to prosperity?", Prof. Dr. Andreas Kruse (University of Heidelberg), Prof. Dr. Stephan Lessenich (University of Jena) and Dr. Henning Scherf discussed amongst other things the question of how people can shape their ageing process and under what conditions people age. Prof. Kruse and Prof. Lessenich warned of increasing social inequalities in old age, which can already be seen today with regard to the availability of material goods. Prof. Kruse called for an intragenerational redistribution between prosperous and poor elderly people in order also to relieve the burden on the social security systems. Prof. Lessenich warned against seeing retirement from exclusively productivistic points of view.

Photo: Dr. Henning Scherf at the podium discussion on the ageing society 40th Anniversary of the BiBDr. Henning Scherf

The former President of the Senate and Mayor of the Free and Hanseatic City of Bremen, Dr. Henning Scherf, reminded his listeners that it was time to get away from traditional perceptions of age. In this context, he criticised negative images and perceptions of age in the media, stressing that he would play his part in meaningfully shaping the last phase of life.

Fertility: Can Cohort Fertility Be Increased to 1.7 Children per Woman?

Is Germany on its way to European normality with regard to cohort fertility? This question was focussed on in the topical focus on "Fertility development in Germany as a mega topic in science and politics”. The non-executive Director of the BiB, Dr. Sabine Bechtold (Federal Statistical Office), Prof. Dr. Johannes Huinink (University of Bremen), Prof. Dr. Ilona Ostner (University of Göttingen) and Prof. Dr. Tilman Mayer (University of Bonn) particularly focussed their discussion on the hypothesis of Prof. Huinink that, in his view, cohort fertility would rise back to 1.7 children per woman because of the catching up process in the desired fertility of younger birth cohorts. Dr. Bechtold expressed her scepticism concerning such an increase since it could only take place if the number of births increased considerably.
Prof. Ostner doubted whether family policy measures were able to influence developments in births. She stated that she was sceptical that control could be exerted since opting for or against children depended on a large number of factors which policy makers were virtually unable to influence. Prof. Mayer contradicted at this point, and expressed his optimism that control could be exerted. He considered that it was actually the duty of the State to encourage people to have children, and that it certainly could influence cohort fertility with the appropriate control mechanisms.

Immigration Will not Halt the Change, but Is Alleviating It

Photo: Ralph Szepanski discussing with Herbert Brücker, Hartmut Sprung and Steffen Mau 40th Anniversary of the BiBProf. Herbert Brücker talking to Ralph Szepanski

Does immigration help to cope with demographic change? In the third and final round of discussions, agreement was reached between the attendees Prof. Dr. Herbert Brücker (Institute for Employment Research, Nuremberg), Hartmut Sprung (Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, Nuremberg), as well as Prof. Dr. Steffen Mau (University of Bremen) and Prof. Dr. Michael Hüther (Cologne Institute for Economic Research) on the answer to the question. All four underlined the significance of immigration for Germany, which will rely on migrants because of demographic change, particularly when it comes to the stability of the social security systems.

All the participants in the discussion considered that immigration could not halt the consequences of change, but could at least limit them. There was therefore a need for a culture of welcome in Germany offering longer-term prospects to immigrants and their families.
The final question asked by ZDF TV presenter Ralph Szepanski also showed that dealing with demographic change would still require quite a bit of research work and future discussions: It was not possible to give a conclusive answer to the question of whether it was conceivable that a concerted model of all concerned to deal with the consequences of change that did not overwhelm society would be available by 2025. There might be proposed solutions by 2023 which it will then be possible to committedly and controversially continue to discuss in a cultivated atmosphere at the BiB's 50th anniversary.

A detailed report on the event and further information on the past and future of the Institute is contained in the new special edition "40 years of the BiB" of "Bevölkerungsforschung Aktuell" (the Population Research Bulletin of the BiB).

(Photos: Stephan Obel)

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