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Spectrum of Demographic Research in Germany

Annual Conference of the German Society for Demography (DGD) from 16-18 March 2015 in Berlin

This year’s annual conference of the German Society for Demography, held in Berlin between 16 and 18 March 2015, was attended by a number of scientists from the BiB and dealt with the challenges, achievements and prospects of demographic research in Germany. A new format of individual sessions was used to present and discuss the findings of the participating institutes. In addition, a panel addressed the question of how to strengthen the field of population science at German universities.

The picture shows Franz Müntefering and Professor Tilman Mayer Annual Conference of the DGD 2015Franz Müntefering and the DGD president Tilman Mayer at 2015's DGD conference.

In his opening speech, the president of the DGD, Tilman Mayer, pointed out the present significance of the topic of demography in the public debate, particularly the present immigration debate. He was astonished at how late in the day the public has taken up Canada’s so-called points system, the benefits and drawbacks of which have long been under discussion in an academic context. In addition, he said that differentiated commentary is needed on how much Germany can be considered an immigration country. In many countries with high immigration rates there is great acceptance of immigration as a matter of course and it takes place in a more familial context. Professor Mayer emphasised that for successful integration in a country of immigration, the correlation with fertility trends, which must fulfil certain minimum criteria in the fertility rate, also plays a role.

BiB sessions on the consequences of spatial mobility and concepts of family-related leitbilder

In addition to migration, the 13 sessions also dealt with other population science and demographic policy issues. The BiB also took part with two sessions. The first focused on migration and mobility. Stine Waibel presented findings on the effects of transnational educational mobility on the later course of life. The study examined the extent to which temporary experiences abroad during studies had positive effects on careers and vocational status. Thomas Skora analysed how and whether increased job-related mobility demands affect reproductive behaviour. As a consequence of the rise in circular forms of mobility, the young birth cohorts need to take family-related decisions against the background of changed mobility experiences. We can presume that the changes in mobility behaviours may contribute to explaining changed reproductive behaviour and family development.

Andreas Ette (BiB), Prof. Dr. Marcel Erlinghagen (Uni Duisburg), Marcus Engler (Sachverständigenrat Deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration), Dr. Lenore Sauer (BiB) and Dr. Friedrich Scheller (Uni Duisburg) dealt with the conditions, motivations and consequences of emigration and remigration by German nationals. Using their recently published study they presented their initial findings on the international mobility of the population in Germany. They analysed who leaves, who returns and how these people differ from the international non-mobile population. They also inquired about the migration motives of the emigrants and remigrants as well as the effects of international mobility on their life course and personal conditions.

What is family? This question was the focus of the second session, in which Dr. Detlev Lück presented the basics of leitbild research as well as the BiB’s quantitative study Family-Related Leitbilder. Using the example of the unfinished qualitative study Family in Images, he explained what ideals people have about life in the family. Although most people include many non-conventional living arrangements in their personal notions of what family is, for example the widespread concept of a family as any living arrangement with children, ultimately, the ideal form and socially established leitbild is essentially only the nuclear family consisting of a heterosexual (married) couple with their biological (young) children in a household. Lück emphasised that people’s social situation influence their perceptions in this context.

On the situation of population science at German universities

In addition to the sessions, a special discussion moderated by the president of the DGD, Professor Tilman Mayer (Universität Bonn) and the director of the BiB, Professor Norbert F. Schneider addressed the question of how to strengthen the field of population science at German universities. Professor Schneider criticised that demography and population science are insufficiently institutionalised in academics. He stressed that there must be differentiation between the fields of population science and demography although both have the same research topic. Population science is interdisciplinary, more theoretical and tends to create references to applications, while demography deals with the population, its transformation and structure. While demography is more descriptive in nature, population science is more interested in explanations, emphasised Professor Schneider. In order to strengthen both fields at the universities we must first ask how they can be institutionalised and in what manner.

The position of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock aimed at urging as many disciplines as possible to offer a minor in population science/demography. Professor Schneider argued than more actual professorships and courses of study in population science and demography are needed. In the heated discussion, Professor Mayer pointed out that the dissent, mainly with the institute in Rostock, was solely over the question of how intensely the implementation focuses on demography in the narrower sense.

Professor Schneider argued for a concrete programme to establish the field, for example with educational programmes in survey research or theory construction. The DGD could also send out a signal, for example, by offering an endowed chair. It could also address other disciplines. It is recognisable that the field of population science is gaining importance from the increasing demand for demographically trained people on the labour market, which is addressed primarily by academics and industry representatives.

A comprehensive report of the conference is available in German in the latest issue of Bevölkerungsforschung Aktuell 2/2015.

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