No babies please, we're German
BERLIN - Germans have stopped having children -- and the number of couples opting for a childless life is rising every year to the consternation of politicians and employers in the eurozone's biggest economy.
While figures released by the French government this month showed France's population could balloon from its current level of 60.2 million to 75 million by 2050, the United Nations predicts that Germany's is set to plummet from 82 million to 70.8 million in the same period.
"I am nearly 35 years old, I am married and I haven't got any children," said Donna, participating in a recent discussion on the Internet site of women's magazine Brigitte.
"There is no particular reason apart from the fact that I have never imagined myself having any."
A study by Germany's federal institute for demographic research showed that 26 percent of men and 15 percent of women aged between 20 and 39 do not want to start a family, a sharp rise since 1992 when the figures were 12 percent of men and 10 percent of women.
"There is an increasing belief that not having children is the ideal way of life," the authors of the study concluded.
This growing trend has many people in Germany wringing their hands.
With a rapidly ageing population, Germany is now distancing itself from its European neighbours in other ways too.
German women, for example, want an average of 1.7 children compared with at least two in most other European countries. Forty percent of university-educated women of child-bearing age are without a child.
"Abandoning the idea of children is abandoning the idea of life," Otto Schily, the radical lawyer turned German interior minister, said recently. He should know: he has two daughters.
For many women however having children means abandoning their careers.
Working mothers complain that all too often they are seen as "Rabenmutter", which translates as "cruel mothers" -- women who dump their kids in childcare so they can pursue their personal goals.
Yet in a country where schools generally finish for the day at 1:30 pm, balancing work and children is a headache.
"Places in creches are hard to get, and expensive," said Andrea, 35, in the Brigitte chat room. "I just can't imagine myself having a child, staying at home and becoming financially dependent on my partner or the State."
The German government has pledged to create 230,000 daycare places by 2010 and the idea of extending the school day is under discussion in some regions.
Germans also tend to be students longer than in other countries, with many still enrolled at university and college until they are at least 30.
This lengthy study period is "a reliable method of contraception," said the minister responsible for families, Renate Schmidt.
The trend towards childlessness is recent -- until the start of the 1990s almost 60 percent of women aged between 25 and 29 had a baby. The figure has plunged to 29 percent today.
Many recent studies have pinpointed psychological factors as putting the brake on the desire to start a family.
"In Germany, having children isn't sexy," said Marie-Luise Lewicki, the editor of Eltern (Parents) magazine.
"We don't just need creches and day-long schooling, we need a change in society," she said.
The federal institute for demographic research said the main reason cited for not having children was the lack of either a partner or a stable relationship, which accounted for 83 percent of respondents.
However, nearly 60 percent said concerns for the future of their potential children had dissuaded them.
In a different study, released by the Forsa polling institute in January, only 29 percent of women pointed to the financial burden of a child and only 39 percent named not wanting to give up their career as their reason for not having children.
Having a family "seems to have become an abstract idea", the federal institute concluded.