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Current National and International Challenges for Demography

Annual Conference of the German Society for Demography (DGD) from 9-11 March 2016 in Leipzig

This year’s annual meeting of the German Society for Demography (DGD) held in Leipzig from 9 to 11 March 2016 under the motto “Current national and international challenges for demography” analysed not only new research results from demographic science, but also the refugee situation. A panel explored the question of the extent to which the present influx of refugees can contribute to alleviating the problems on the labour market and with regard to the ageing population. In addition, scientists from the BiB presented the latest results of their research work from various fields.

Immigration will not alleviate the challenges of the demographic transition

In the panel discussion, Prof. Dr. Gabriele Doblhammer (Universität Rostock), Prof. Dr. Horst Weishaupt (Deutsches Institut für internationale pädagogische Forschung) and Prof. Dr. Joachim Ragnitz from the Ifo-Institut Dresden came to the unanimous conclusion that the refugee influx can ultimately not lastingly solve the problems of the labour market and the ageing of the population.

Rather, initial surveys showed that the vast majority of refugees are not sufficiently qualified to meet the shortage of skilled workers. Professor Weishaupt stressed that it is better in the long run to invest money now in the integration and further training of people with immigrant backgrounds (including second or third generation immigrants) than to have to spend it later for social assistance. On the question of whether the refugees should be allocated more to the shrinking rural regions, Professor Ragnitz was sceptical in view of the lack of jobs, while Professor Weishaupt advocated a differentiated view. Professor Doblhammer pointed out the presently poor data availability, which makes it difficult to draw conclusions regarding the refugees. They argued that policymakers need to break down barriers in order to achieve an improvement in the data.

Ageing will only be slowed down, not halted by immigration

In his opening speech to the conference of around 200 participants, the president of the DGD, Professor Tilman Mayer, confirmed the opinion advocated for decades by demographers that immigration can only slow down ageing, but cannot stop it. In addition, in view of a previously observed limited number of well-trained immigrants, the expectations of some economists that the refugee movement could fill the gap of skilled workers requires massive integration efforts to resolve these shortcomings, Professor Mayer emphasized. He advocated controlled immigration to Germany, which also needs the support of the population. Moreover, this discussion pushes the other major themes of the demographic transition, such as the prevailing fertility weakness, to the background. From a demographic perspective, Germany has more than enough challenges that need solutions, he urged.

The picture shows the Minister-President of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich, during his welcome speech. The Minister-President of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich, during his welcome speechThe Minister-President of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich, considers his state well able to handle the demographic transition. Source: Wolfgang Weiß, Uni Greifswald

The demographic transition in Saxony

Subsequently, the Minister-President of the Free State of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich, spoke about the opportunities of the demographic transition for Saxony. For some time the state, and especially the local authorities, have actively worked on shaping the transition with various pilot projects and initiatives. For example, the administration in some regions is relying on mobile citizens’ terminals to create the shortest possible routes between citizens and authorities. In addition, the state has been active since 2007 in shaping the challenges of the demographic transition with the support of associations, local authorities and clubs, said the Minister-President. He also talked about the current refugee debate, pointing out that not all refugees will stay here permanently. In addition, immigration will not solve all demographic problems. However, he sees those who remain and can be integrated well as beneficial for Saxony.

The picture shows the Japanese sociologist Professor Toshihiko Hara during his presentation. The Japanese sociologist Professor Toshihiko Hara analyses the demographic situation in JapanThe sociologist Toshihiko Hara from City University of Sapporo, Japan presented demographic trends in Japan in his keynote address. Source: Wolfgang Weiß, Uni Greifswald

Shrinking and ageing societies: Germany and Japan

In his keynote speech, Professor Toshihiko Hara showed how the demographic transition is developing in Japan compared to Germany. He pointed out that Germany and Japan exhibit distinct similarities. For instance, childlessness is becoming increasingly acceptable in both countries and both countries have a trend towards later births. By contrast, marriage in Japan has far higher importance and is more important for starting a family than it is in Germany. Since 2015, there has been a general turn in Japan from family to population policies. The new declared political objective is to seek political means to realise the desired number of children, Professor Hara emphasised.

Presentations of the latest research topics from the BiB

Again this year, 14 sessions presented current projects and results from the different research areas of demography. They also included employees from the BiB. Here is an overview of the featured articles:

Is the correlation between childlessness and education weakening?

Dr Martin Bujard explored this question. He first revealed that childlessness trends differ considerably between different groups. Hence, Bujard emphasised, today there is a strong rise in childlessness recognisable among less educated women without migration backgrounds. By contrast, starting with the 1970s cohorts, childlessness among academic women is reversing again. Possible causes for this development include a diffusion of lifestyles of urban female university graduates to other social groups as well as other effects of family policy measures such as parental leave and the expansion of day-care centres. Dr Bujard also cited progress in reproductive medicine as a possible effect.

Family-related leitbilder in Germany and France

How do family-related leitbilder differ in Germany and in France with regard to relationships and families? In her presentation, Kerstin Ruckdeschel (together with Sabine Diabaté) first presented the concept of family-related leitbilder and went into key demographic differences in Germany and France. Based on findings from the Family-Related Leitbild study by the BiB and the French study Étude Longitudinale par Internet pour les Sciences Sociales (ELLIPS), they searched for answers to the question of whether different family-related leitbilder in Germany and France can be identified and the extent to which they influence the desire to have children. Their analyses reveal the existence of different leitbilder in the two countries that determine the social climate. For example, in France there is a prevailing attitude that parenthood is a matter of course, while in Germany there is a high degree of social acceptance for childlessness. In addition, external childcare and working mothers are accepted to a greater extent in France than in Germany, as Kerstin Ruckdeschel discovered.

The findings indicate that the adoption of models from other countries, such as those that reconcile family and career, in order to promote fertility must be judicious. In particular, the cultural aspect should not be disregarded. Thus, leitbilder that are strong in Germany – such as responsible parenthood, caring mothers or the image of the new father – must be included in considerations.

Experiences of Spanish immigrants on entering the labour market in Germany

What experiences do Spanish immigrants have when they come to Germany to work here? Dr Lenore Sauer presented initial research results on the subject (in collaboration with Susanne Stedtfeld and Andreas Ette from the BiB). In Spain, the economic crisis of recent years has led to a rapid rise in unemployment. Presently, young people in particular are faced with the challenge of trying to enter a labour market that is closed to them. Against the background of European integration, Dr Sauer emphasised the ideal conditions for successful immigration from Spain to Germany such as the need for well-trained specialists on the German labour market, while young Spaniards have suitable profiles for successful labour market integration. In recent years, the latter have increasingly decided to realise their labour market entry in Germany. Nevertheless, a significant proportion of them return to Spain within a year.

What challenges do they encounter in Germany? What expectations, experiences and objectives are the motivations for this migration? Do they succeed in entering the labour market and if not, why? In 2015, to answer these questions, 33 qualitative interviews were conducted with Spanish immigrants between 25 and 35 years of age who moved to the Rhine-Main area in 2014 and 2015. The respondents explained their motives for immigration to Germany as well as their initial situation in Spain and their experiences in Germany.

Initial analysis of the interviews shows that the crisis in Spain has very differing effects on the lives of these young people. Although they acted similarly by moving to Germany, there are different patterns in the reasons behind this action. While one group considered themselves forced to leave Spain by the threat of the crisis, another group rather perceived it as facilitating and opening up new opportunities in terms of living and work prospects. There were also major differences in their strategies and pathways of coming to Germany and different expectations about social integration and taking up employment. In the coming months, a follow-up survey is planned in order to pursue the further development of the respondents (2nd wave). Also, it will look at the questions of the role played by networks and gender.

Longer life expectancy and better health

The unbridled increase in life expectancy is accompanied by a rise in the numbers of chronic illnesses. But does the rise in life expectancy actually lead to a greater risk of contracting chronic diseases and higher probability of death from an infectious disease? In his presentation, Dr Ronny Westermann from the centre of competence for the mortality follow-up of the national cohorts at the BiB (in collaboration with Frederik Peters from the Institut für Soziologie und Demographie, Rostock) sought answers to this question.

Based on data from eight European countries (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Scotland) from the ERA-EDTA Register and the WHO cause of death database, between 2000 and 2013 he studied variations in the incidence, or the frequency of new cases of a disease over time, as well as the prevalence (or disease frequency in its present state) of renal replacement therapy as well as sepsis mortality. The objective is to test whether the rise in sepsis mortality could possibly be associated with a rising prevalence in the loss of renal function.

Initial results indicate that with the exception of Greece and Denmark, the lifetime risk of renal replacement therapy drops and particularly in Scandinavia the lifetime risk of sepsis mortality rises according to Dr Westerman. The previous results do not confirm the initial question but instead indicate that a longer healthy life is possible.

Organisational matters: Prof. Dr. Doblhammer new president of the DGD

Apart from an extensive scientific programme, the board of DGD was also re-elected at the conference. Prof. Dr. Gabriele Doblhammer (Universität Rostock) is the new president. She is replacing the previous president Prof. Dr. Tilman Mayer, who held the office for six years.
Prof. Dr. Norbert F. Schneider was elected vice president of the BiB. The other members of the new board are Prof. Dr. Michaela Kreyenfeld (Hertie School of Governance, Berlin), Dr. Bettina Sommer (Statistisches Bundesamt, Wiesbaden) and Dr. Elke Hoffmann (Deutsches Zentrum für Altersfragen, Berlin). Dr. Christina Westphal (Rostocker Zentrum zur Erforschung des Demografischen Wandels) is the new managing director.

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