Falling German Birthrate Dispels Baby Miracle Myth

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The twin forces of rising life expectancy and falling birthrates have accelerated the process. This is apparent from the United States, where policy makers fret over the baby boom generation beginning to retire, to Japan, which has the highest share of people older than 60 in the world. As in Japan, more than a quarter of the population in Italy and Germany is over 60, and the phenomenon extends to Poland and Russia.

Although the German government has begun to address the issue, it was particularly slow out of the blocks in dealing with its low birthrate, and, since 2003, the contraction of its population, in that first year by just 5,000 people, but in 2006 by a 130,000. The German population stands at 82.4 million people.

That was, in part, because almost no debate can proceed unencumbered by the country’s Nazi past. Hitler’s government gave medals to mothers of large families, gold for those with eight or more children. Uneasiness over the parallels kept the subject of encouraging reproduction on the back burner in Germany for years, unlike in France where promoting childbearing has long been government policy.

This month Eva Herman, a prominent television personality and author, was fired by the network NDR for praising the Third Reich’s emphasis on family and in particular on childbearing. Though she simultaneously criticized the Nazi government over all as she made the provocative remarks, her employer’s response was as swift as the public outcry was loud. Yet the World War II era is of little significance to the policy decisions regarding Germany’s current shrinking population, which is an economic issue today rather than a military or nationalistic one.

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