September 14, 2006

No Dearth of Births in This Town

CLOPPENBURG, Germany — Children are scarce in Germany, but not in this farming region of slaughterhouses and churches, where stores close before sunset and there's a baptism every weekend.

Some credit tradition, some God. Some say it's the return of Germans whose families were trapped in the Soviet bloc after World War II. A bit of all these things has made this town the nation's baby machine. But even Cloppenburg's higher-than-average fertility rate will barely sustain its population in coming decades.

Germany's birthrate is the lowest in Europe, a continent that is aging faster than any on Earth. Demographers and politicians are studying Cloppenburg's reproductive inclinations in hopes they can be transplanted to other regions. Reversing the downward birth spiral across Europe is crucial: Without more newborns, the ranks of workers will diminish, threatening the public purse and the ideal of social democracy.

Germany had 686,000 births last year, or about half as many as the early 1960s, according to the Office of Federal Statistics. The consequences of that trend are particularly disturbing when compared with the nation's 830,000 deaths in 2005.

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