BERLIN (REUTERS) - Germany's birth rate rose last year to its highest level in 12 years, helped by years of economic growth and government support, but not enough to offset the death rate, and its overall population continued to decline.
Births rose by 4.8 per cent in 2014 and climbed above the 700,000-threshold for the first time since 2004 to 714,966, the statistics office said on Friday.
But the population still shrank by 153,407 in 2014, as 868,373 deaths outnumbered the births.
The declining number of Germans is partly being offset by rising immigration. Some 8.6 per cent of its population of 81.8 million are foreigners.
Also, Germany has taken in 40 per cent of the refugees arriving in the European Union this year. On Wednesday, the government raised its forecast for an influx of 800,000 people this year fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Steady economic growth since 2010 and generous pro-family policies by successive governments in recent years have helped lift the birth rate, the statistics office in Wiesbaden said. Still, "we've got a lot of hard work ahead of us," said Family Minister Manuela Schwesig.
The number of births is likely to start falling again, because economic upheaval cut the birth rate in the former East Germany after unification in 1990, officials said.
"There was a steep fall-off in births after 1990 and that means there are now fewer women in the main child-bearing ages,"said Olga Poetzsch, a government statistician.
Post-war governments were long wary about population policies in part because of the abuses during the Nazi era.
The number of births plunged from 906,000 in 1990 to 830,000 a year later and tumbled further to 765,000 by 1995, she said. It reached 663,000 in 2011.
Germany's birth rate peaked in 1964 at 1.4 million, Poetzsch said. Deaths have exceed births 1972, by a total of about five million fewer births than deaths.
The government has offered generous support to parents in recent years and greatly expanded child care in hopes of raising the birth rate.
"The positive economic environment in Germany and the implementation of pro-family policies have had an effect on the birth levels," said Poetzsch.
"The climate has become positive."