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Charlotte Höhn (2007)

Population Research and Demographic Change – A Political Assessment of Demography since the 1970s*

In: Zeitschrift für Bevölkerungswissenschaft, Vol. 32, 1-2/2007, p. 73-98, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, ISSN: 0340-2398

Since the publication of the 4th coordinated population projection (1973/74) demographers anticipated a considerable population ageing after 2010/15 assuming sustained low fertility with or without immigration. In 1973 the Federal Institute for Population Research was established to study the determinants of fertility decline since the mid-1960ies and to advise the Federal government in population matters. After deliberations in the “Bad Sooden Group” an interministerial working group on population was convened under the competence of the Ministry of Interior producing a government report on determinants and consequences of population ageing in two parts (1980 and 1984). The media discussed the question “Will the Germans die out?”

Already towards the late 1970ies the findings of demographers were politically challenged (Albrecht Müller 1979) with the result to be largely ignored in politics and media in the 1980ies and 1990ies. The same decades experienced a clear expansion of family policies in several steps possibly preventing further fertility decline. In 1987 a law passed to increase legal age at retirement after 2000 but early retirement continued to be encouraged. Supplementing the social pension system by capital accumulation found no political support by the big political parties up to the 1990ies (Enquete-Kommission Demographischer Wandel 1992 - 2002).

After reunification unemployment and immigration covered demographic change. With the start of the new millennium and the presentation of various future scenarios also population projections attracted public interest. Hence politics and media deal with “demographic change” (a summary label for low fertility, longevity, immigration and integration, consequences of population ageing) again. Much hope was put on immigration but the UN replacement migration study (2001) demonstrated that immigration cannot prevent population ageing. Partial capital accumulation (Riester pension) was introduced to supplement the social pension system and early retirement was reduced. The baby boom generations of the 1960ies and 1970ies were informed on generational inequality by the bestseller “Methusalem-Komplott” by Frank Schirrmacher. The Federal family ministers Renate Schmid and Ursula von der Leyen started a sustainable family policy. Now demographers are overworked being still few (an overview of the development of demographic research is given). Demographers can claim to have warned of demographic change already 30 years ago.

* Original title: Bevölkerungsforschung und demographischer Wandel – Zur politischen Würdigung der Demographie seit den 1970er Jahren (full text in German only)

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