Why Germany’s birth rate is rising and Italy’s isn’t

The government is making it easier to look after kids

IN 1907 AN anxious Austrian, Emil Reich, predicted that Germany would have a population of 150m in 1980 and as many as 200m by the year 2000. It seemed plausible at the time. Germany had a high birth rate and a falling mortality rate. Reich’s prediction, in his book “Germany’s Swelled Head”, turned out to be completely wrong. By the early 1980s East and West Germany had a combined fertility rate lower than anywhere in the world except Denmark and the Channel Islands. Far from exploding, Germany’s population seemed doomed to rapid decline.

But in the past few years something unexpected has happened. The fertility rate, an estimate of the number of children each woman can expect to have in her lifetime, has climbed off the floor. Between 2006 and 2017 it rose from 1.33 to 1.57. The rate for 2018 has not yet been worked out, but more babies were born that year than in 2017. Germany’s fertility rate has pulled away from Italy’s and Spain’s (see chart) and is now almost identical to the euro-area average. On June 17th the UN estimated that in 2050 Germany will have 58 people over the age of 65 for every 100 people aged 20-64. That is a lot, but comfortably less than Italy’s predicted ratio of 74 to 100.