No cause for panic

Demografischer Wandel in Deutschland

Demography. The term is so unwieldy, just as the topic itself. How should we deal with the fact that we will all live longer while at the same time there will be less of us? Scenarios of depopulated regions and deserted villages are being outlined. Demography or the demographic change are being presented as an unavoidable catastrophe. The press has headlines from “Uprising of the old”, “The childless society” and “Foreign infiltration” to the resigned observation: “Germany is heading for extinction”. For all that, the term “demographic change” is initially neither negative nor positive. It simply designates the change in composition of the age structure of a society. The expectations for Germany are clear, though: By 2060 the German population will decrease to 65 to 72 million from 82 million today. This is linked to further ageing of society resulting from the decreasing birth rate and the high increase in life expectancy during the past decades. While the average age of the population is currently 43.3 years, it will rise to over 50 years by 2060. During the same period the percentage of people over 65 will rise from currently about 20 % to then 34 %. Demographic change is not purely a German phenomenon, though. Other European countries are affected as well. The birth rate is lower then the mortality rate e.g. also in Italy, Portugal, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Latvia, Hungary or Lithuania.

The demographic change already presents our society with a number of tasks which should not be underestimated. This does not only concern the restructuring of social security systems but also of living spaces, public urban and traffic spaces as well as private living quarters.

The longer life spans will determine the biographies of individual people in a new way. The traditional phases of life will become more varied and less clearly defined. Periods of education, family, work and retirement need a new type of flexibility. The crucial factor is: For the great majority of people this is about extra years for a fulfilled life. What is important is recognising them as such and using them. So it is not about care homes instead of nurseries, but about how to preserve the society's capability for restructuring under the given circumstances.