June 20, 2060: In many western and northern European countries, birth rates are once again approaching the magic number of 2.1 children per woman. Demographers consider this the replacement fertility rate for developed countries, but in Germany, the birth rate languishes at 1.36 – far below the level considered the minimum for the preservation of society. Back in the present, we have to ask the question: Why? Wiebke Rösler, from the Humboldt University in Berlin, identified several reasons while researching her dissertation on the topic Structural change and fertility. How the higher professional training of women influences birth rate. On the eve of receiving the Allianz prize for young demographers, the social scientist dispels the myth that Germans are on the brink of extinction. The Germans are said to be on the brink of extinction? She dispels these scenarios ahead of the Berlin Demography Forum (from April 9-11, 2014), where academics, politicians and renowned representatives of society will be looking at the glue holding the generations together as the proportion of older people continues to rise.
Are humans becoming extinct because we are too well educated?
If you look at the world's population, you will see that humankind is definitely not becoming extinct. Predictions that Germany's population would die out have also not come true either. Germany is still an attractive destination for immigrants, so we don't need to worry about Germany being depopulated.
Education simply means that women are not having children in their early or mid-twenties, but are devoting themselves to their careers instead, so leave it until later to have children. Education does not rule out having children.
France has a higher fertility rate than Germany. What conditions does that country offer that German women with higher levels of education are still waiting on?
For many years, Germany invested less in infrastructure per capita than other countries. We failed to build all-day schools. Our children do not, as is common in France, Sweden or Finland, go to nurseries or preschools that offer full-time day care. In Germany, school finishes in the early afternoon. That creates a problem for many working women.
Sadly, it has to be said, this is a German problem. Our culture does not try to reconcile work and family. Instead, conservative conceptions of gender roles still prevail. In Germany, there are three genders: men, women and mothers. While men and women largely have equal rights and opportunities, mothers are still lumbered with an old-fashioned gender role. That is different in France. In Germany, especially in the West, there is still a prevailing idea that children suffer if they are separated from their parents for the whole day.
Let's assume Germany finally does its homework and fills in the care gaps, will women really then have more children? Is it that simple?
Well women who have attained higher levels of education are not behaving significantly differently from the past. Instead, because there are now more educated women than housewives, the birth rate is declining. The only group where birth rates have climbed significantly is among women in part-time work. They are producing slightly more children, so maybe this is a family policy success. Balanced against this are professions such as, for example, those in the media sector where women have come to play a more significant role. In such professions, the birth rate is a lot lower. The fact that women who are working full-time in countries such as France have more children than Germany shows that the situation may change again despite the increased education of women.