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Hans-Ulrich Oel (2007)

Scientific Knowledge and Political Responsibility – Dealing with the Phenomenon of Demographic Change in Germany*

In: Zeitschrift für Bevölkerungswissenschaft, Vol. 32, 1-2/2007, p. 99-122, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, ISSN: 0340-2398

Demographic change and its consequences will alter all areas of life. This has been realised for a long time among proponents of the relevant scientific disciplines, and has been the topic of political advice, being discussed in committees of enquiry, but has taken decades to enter the political arena. Only when the projections came true and the fall in the population size was accepted as a structurally-irreversible fact, did policy-makers, and – still very hesitantly – the business community seek answers. Family policy is taking up a major part of the political debate in Germany in the current year. This should not however blind us to the fact that family policy can only exert an indirect, minimal influence on decisions taken by potential parents to have children. This therefore attaches even greater importance to measures to deal with the consequences of demographic change, which form the core of the information of this article.

Demographic change should not be presented as a threat. It will only become a danger to economic development and social cohesion if we ignore it. Active policy to shape change and its consequences must hence always have in mind and communicate the opportunities provided by change. These lie in improving the educational system, active health management, services for elderly citizens, refining civil society and in many other areas. Other policy fields will need to accommodate changes in social life and study these changes. Any viable policy which does justice to the requirements of demographic change needs to take a long-term view of this phenomenon. We need to relearn how to think and act in terms of generations, and not of election periods.

It will be first and foremost the political will to shape these processes which determines the success or failure of how we deal with demographic change. The available material and ideational resources must be put to optimum use and coupled with a considerable amount of imagination and a wealth of ideas, since only creative solutions are viable.

* Original title: Wissenschaftliche Erkenntnis und politische Verpflichtung – Zum Umgang mit dem Phänomen des demographischen Wandels in Deutschland (full text in German only)

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