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Germany's population just hit a record high - so what does this mean?

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Germany's population just hit a record high - so what does this mean?
File photo: DPA
16:32 CET+01:00
There are more people living in Germany than ever before, largely thanks to immigration. Here's an explanation of what the new numbers mean.

Germany's population reached 82.8 million at the end of 2016, according to government estimates. That's around 600,000 more than the previous year - an increase equivalent to the population of Leipzig - and almost 300,000 more than the previous record year, 15 years ago in 2002.

But without immigration - both of refugees and EU nationals - the population would have shrunk. So what do the statistics tell us?

How many people moved to Germany?

According to the statistics, over the past year at least 750,000 more people moved to Germany than emigrated from the country. In 2015, this figure was even higher, at around 1.1 million.

How accurate is this figure?

The immigration statistics aren't exact, experts warn. The 2011 census proved this: the official count showed that around one million fewer foreigners were living in Germany as had been thought. There are a few reasons for this, for example the fact that many immigrants do not inform authorities when they return home or move to another country, while others end up being registered twice.

What's more, many refugees who arrived in Germany during the 2015 migration influx were only officially registered in 2016. According to Sebastian Klüsener, an expert at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, the actual number of people who moved to Germany in 2016 is likely to be several tens of thousands lower than the official figure.

Where do the immigrants come from?

The 2016 statistics don't show this precisely. But experts agree that as well as refugees from war-zones and crisis-hit areas, economic immigrants from East Europe and other EU countries play an important role in Germany's population growth.

"EU migration was more significant than refugee migration in 2016," said Thomas Liebig from the OECD.

What about births and deaths?

Each year, more people die in Germany than are born there, meaning the population would shrink if it weren't for immigration. The so-called 'birth deficit' is estimated at between 150,000 and 190,000.

"The number of newborns rose slightly in 2016 compared with the previous year, and the number of deaths has risen to roughly the same level as in the previous year," explains statistician Reinhold Zahn.

How can the 'birth deficit' be tackled?

The number of women of child-bearing age in Germany is currently lower than the number of elderly people, meaning that even if these women were to have more children, it would be tough to compensate for the number of deaths. 

Herbert Brücker of the Institute for Employment Research noted that: "Migration also increases birth rates," not because immigrants have a particularly high number of children, but because they are generally young.

Is population growth good?

Immigrants from the EU usually come to Germany to look for work.

"Labor migration helps us to cope with demographic change," says Brücker. "The public budgets, the pension insurance systems, for example, are a good thing, as is the fact that we do not have to go into the population shrinkage."

What are the prospects for 2017?

It's hard to say. For one thing, it's impossible to predict how Brexit will affect European migration.

"This could go in both directions," says Liebig from the OECD.

"The labor market is still receptive," Holger Bonin, of the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA), emphasizes. The economist also believes that fewer refugees will arrive in Germany over the coming year.

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