The German family structure from a geographical perspective

April 2012

“We may soon have more children in Germany again”. This is what Minister of Family Affairs Kristina Schröder said recently at the annual conference of the German Association for Demography in Berlin. In order for this to happen, people have to be given the chance to achieve their own personal concepts of life and to unify their family and their job. The minister’s wishes and the current reality are worlds apart. Although the birth rate did increase slightly last year, households with children continue to be in the minority. However, this is not true in all areas of the country. In some southern and rural areas, families with young children are even slightly in the majority. In contrast to this, single people prefer to settle in big cities.

For years, politicians for family issues have been nervously watching the birth rate in Germany. For a long time, the number remained steady at an average of 1.4 children per woman, at the bottom of the European scale. The Max Planck Institute revised this figure upwards to 1.6 births in September 2011, but it is questionable whether or not this is the beginning of the hoped-for change in demographics. In Germany, families with children are currently in the minority. Just under 30% of a total of 39.7 million German households include children. Slightly above this figure is the number of multi-person households without children (31%). The front runners are not, in fact, traditional families, but people who live alone. At 40%, they now make up the largest slice of the demographic pie. Fifty years ago, the picture was completely different. According to official statistics, the proportion of single households in 1961 (source: German Federal Statistical Office) was around 20%. The proportion has since increased sharply to almost twice that, although this increase was not evenly spread across all regions. This is shown by GfK GeoMarketing’s GfK Population Structure Data 2011, which describes the spatial distribution of the German population taking into account structure and age.

But Germany is not lacking in children over all. A quick look at the demographic map shows significant regional differences. If you want to be surrounded by a large number of families with children, you need to move to the South. In comparison with the national average, a larger number of families with children live in Baden-Württemberg, the Saarland, Bavaria, Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse. With an index of 102, North Rhine-Westphalia is also slightly above the national average. Brandenburg, Thuringia, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein still reach index values of over 95, followed by the city states of Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin, in which families with children are significantly under-represented.

Families prefer to move to the country

But why? Isn’t it cities which offer a wide range of child care and job opportunities, and with it the compatibility of family and career? Town planners are constantly thinking about how to offer younger generations the best opportunities for development. The German Children’s Fund has launched its own programme for child-friendly urban design. But families clearly still prefer to settle in more rural areas. Less traffic, more space and places to play, fresh air and less chaos could play a role here, as could the traditional way of living as a family which is more deeply entrenched in the countryside. Families in Bavaria feel particularly happy: with 42% each, Landshut, Kelheim and Straubing-Bogen are some of the most heavily populated areas in Germany in terms of the number of children. The remainder of the top 10 list are also in Bavaria, with the exception of Cloppenburg in Lower Saxony, which is number four on the list with 40%.

Those who live alone cherish city life

Those who live alone, on the other hand, prefer the varied offer and the better infrastructure in urban regions. At the state level, Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen have a disproportionately large number of single people, followed by Saxony in fourth place. The smallest number of single-person households can be found in Rhineland-Palatinate, but Brandenburg, Baden-Württemberg, Saarland and Thuringia also have significantly lower numbers of single people.

If you look at the distribution of single people on a city or state level, another fact emerges. Only in cities can you find noticeably more people living alone, and this depends on the federal state in which the city lies. Regensburg, for example, has the highest level of single households at 57%, although the state itself is on the lower side of average in the rankings. Singles capital number two is the city of Berlin with around 54% single-person households, followed by Würzburg at 53%. Braunschweig, Munich, Osnabrück, Hamburg, Leipzig, Rostock, and Kiel are also in the top 10 cities in terms of the number of single people. How does such a small town as Regensburg with a population of around 135,000 come to have such a high “single rate”? A closer look at the structure of the place shows that with over 20,000 students (source: Wikipedia) the universities and the associated academic and non-academic staff account for more than half of the high number of single households.

Young households: Greifswald leads the pack

A quick look at the age groups shows that three of the top 10 cities in terms of the number of single people were also on the list of the top “young” households, and were therefore also inhabited with the student generation. This means that in university towns such as Leipzig, Würzburg and Kiel, there are both large numbers of single people and an above average number of young people. Those who are still studying or who have just started their careers and adult lives are often not married and do not have children, and are able to find a wider range of training opportunities and places to start their career in cities. But regions which are not home to particularly large numbers of single people also sometimes show their younger side. Number one “youngest” city or county is Greifswald, where a good 20% of households are under 30, followed by Leipzig and Dresden. With the exception of Flensburg, in the city ranking young households are primarily in cities with large universities with more than 20,000 students or those whose in which students make up more than 15% of the population (source: Wikipedia). This shows that an availability of education evidently brings with it correspondingly large numbers of young people.

Overall, however, Germany is in a state of constant aging. In 35% of households in Germany, the head of the household is 60 or older (see chart above). The next largest group is those between 40 and 49 at 21%, and those between 50 and 59 at 17%. In contrast, the number of young households (under 30) is lowest across the country. The number of old households is particularly high in some former East German federal states and in Saarland. Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Saarland are the top three states in this list. At the other end of the scale are Hamburg and Berlin – here, there are comparatively few households made up of older people. In the remaining federal states, the proportion of older households is around the German average, with index values between 95 and 104. The top 10 is mostly made up of areas in the new federal states or those which are close to the former inner-German border. The age group above 60 evidently feels a pull to the spa resort of Baden-Baden, which is number two in the rankings.

Whether single or with a partner, with children in the country or with no children in the city, the ways in which German people live are many and various. Young single people can often be found in cities, while families with children prefer to live in the countryside. But these tendencies are not set in stone. The demographic changes occurring will lead to ever more single households and increasing numbers of older people. At the same time, societal changes can also be observed, such as the increase in women in employment, stay-at-home fathers or new types of communal living in older generations. This means that Germany’s demographic map will continue to change, so in the future we will once again ask: where do we Germans live?

Data Source: GfK GeoMarketing (GfK Demographics 2011, January 2012)
If you have any queries please contact Cornelia Lichtner, GfK GeoMarketing

For any further queries regarding GfK Compact, please contact Claudia Gaspar,

April 2012

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