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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Population: demographic situation, languages and religions


1.Political, social and economic background and trends

1.3Population: demographic situation, languages and religions

Last update: 26 March 2024

Demographic Situation

Organisation of administration

As of 31 December 2022, Germany has been divided regionally and for administrative purposes into 16 Länder (including three city states), 19 administrative regions (Regierungsbezirke), 400 districts (Kreise) comprising 106 municipalities with the status of a district (kreisfreie Städte) and 294 rural districts (Landkreise) and 10,786 municipalities (Gemeinden). The city states of Berlin, Bremen (two municipalities) and Hamburg are also counted as local authorities, as are all municipalities with the status of a district and inhabited areas not belonging to any municipality. Some Länder also have intermunicipal corporations (Gemeindeverbände) which are formed if their members agree to pool their efforts with each retaining its individual rights.

Population structure

The number of persons without German citizenship living in Germany is an important factor influencing the changing population structure. According to the Central Register of Aliens (Ausländerzentralregister – AZR), in 2022 there were 13.4 million foreign nationals. In numerical terms, Turks represented the biggest group, at 11,1 per cent of Germany's foreign population. In 2022, 37.8 per cent of the persons without German citizenship came from EU Member States, of which Poland was most strongly represented at 6.6 per cent of the entire foreign population. After the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, there was a sharp increase in the number of people seeking protection. In 2022, 8.7 percent of the foreign population came from Ukraine

Settlement structure

Since the restoration of German unity, the Federal Republic of Germany covers a total of some 357,000 km2. In 2022, 84.4 million people lived in Germany. With a population density of 233 inhabitants per km2 in 2021, Germany is one of the most densely populated nations in Europe.

In geographical terms, the population is distributed extremely unevenly. The most densely populated areas are the city states of Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg. Nordrhein-Westfalen, where towns and cities run into each other without any clear boundaries in the industrial area surrounding the Rhine and Ruhr rivers, had over 17.9 million inhabitants in 2021 with a population density of 525 inhabitants per km2. Other conurbations include the Rhine-Main area, the industrial area in the Rhine-Neckar district, the commercial area around Stuttgart and the areas around Bremen, Cologne, Dresden, Hamburg, Leipzig, Munich and Nuremberg/Fürth.

These densely populated regions contrast with extremely thinly populated areas, e.g. in the North German Plain, parts of the Central Upland, the Brandenburg Marches and in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. 

In 2021, just less than 32.8 million persons or 39.4 per cent of the German population lived in urban or densely-populated areas (municipalities with at least 50,000 inhabitants and a population density of more than 500 inhabitants per km2). Around 33.6 million people lived in semi-urban or medium density population areas (municipalities with at least 50,000 inhabitants and a population density of 100 to 500 inhabitants per km2). This corresponds to 40.4 per cent of the total population. Just less than 16.9 million people lived in municipalities in rural areas with a population density of fewer than 100 inhabitants per km2. This was 20.3 per cent of the total population.

Birth rate development

In line with the majority of western industrial nations, Germany has a low birth rate and a correspondingly small number of children. The decisive decline in the birth rate took place between the mid-sixties and the mid-seventies.

The number of births in Germany in 2022 was 738,819. Compared to the year 2021, the number of births has slightly increased by 56,673.

Age distribution

The age distribution of the population of Germany is on the point of changing with lasting effect. This is due to both the declining number of children and the increasing life expectancy. This results in a drop in the proportion of young people at the same time as an increase in the proportion of older people.

In 2022, just less than 15.9 million inhabitants were younger than 20. This corresponds to a proportion of 18.8 per cent. The proportion of inhabitants aged 60+ increased from 20.0 per cent in 1970 to 29.5 per cent in 2022. Their numbers amounted to 24.9 million and, in 2022, they outnumbered the younger inhabitants.

Population by age

Age from 2005 2010 2022
0 bis 5 3,570,858 3,409,120 3.988.681
5 bis 10 3,968,520 3,568,345 4.070.777
10 bis 15 4,110,494 3,963,736 3.869.519
15 bis 20 4,835,789 4,140,394 4.529.727
20 bis 25 4,853,808 4,995,991 4.529.727
25 bis 45 23,736,398 21,387,571 21.420.194
45 bis 60 16,822,030 18,792,715 17.685.620
60 and over 20,540,098 21,493,730 24.862.231
Total 82,437,995 81,751,602 84.358.845

Source: Statistisches Bundesamt

Migration (cross-border arrivals and departures)

In 2022, 2.665.772 people immigrated from abroad, 1.203.683 left Germany. This represents an increase of 1.462.089 people. The statistics thus show the highest net immigration within a reporting year registered to date since the time series began in 1950. The increase compared to 2021 is mainly due to the fact that many people seeking protection came to Germany from Ukraine.


German is stipulated by law as the official language of administration and the judiciary of the Federation and the Länder. The two main provisions for the federal domain can be found in the Administrative Procedure Act (Verwaltungsverfahrensgesetz, Section 23) and the Court Constitution Act (Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz, Section 184). Special provisions exist in Sachsen and Brandenburg for the use of the Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian language, respectively, and in Schleswig-Holstein for the use of the Low German, Frisian and Danish languages. There are no corresponding legislative provisions on the language of instruction in the education sector. German is the normal language of instruction and training at general education and vocational schools as well as institutions of higher education.

The exceptions in the school sector include, alongside certain privately-maintained schools, all bilingual schools and classes as well as instruction and extra classes in the native language for pupils with migrant backgrounds or those whose native tongue is not German.

In 1998, Germany joined the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages of the Council of Europe and applies this agreement to those speaking Danish, North Frisian, Saterland Frisian, Upper Sorbian, Lower Sorbian, the Romany of the German Sinti and Roma and the regional language Low German. The children of the Danish minority in Schleswig-Holstein can attend privately-maintained Ersatzschulen (alternative schools) instead of the general education schools of the public sector, as long as the educational objectives of these schools essentially correspond to those of the school types provided for in the Schleswig-Holstein Education Act. Lessons in these schools are taught in Danish. As a rule, German is a compulsory subject as of grade 2. Parents or legal guardians may choose whether their children should attend schools catering for the Danish minority. They merely have to inform the local Grundschule (primary school) that their child has been accepted at a school which caters for the Danish minority, and thus absolve him/her from the need to attend the public-sector school.

Children and young people of ethnic Sorbian descent in the settlement area of the Sorbs in Brandenburg and Sachsen, in particular, have the opportunity of learning the Upper Sorbian or Lower Sorbian language at Sorbian or other schools with a corresponding offer and are also taught in the Upper Sorbian or Lower Sorbian language in certain subjects as well as at certain grades or levels of education. All schools in Sachsen also impart basic knowledge of Sorbian history and culture. In Brandenburg, the Sorbian/Wendish history and culture are to be included and taught in educational work. Parents may decide freely whether their children are to attend the schools where Sorbian or Sorbian/Wendish is a compulsory subject and sometimes also the language of instruction. Additionally, Romany, the language of the German Sinti and Romanies, as well as Frisian and Low German in the Länder of northern Germany are taken into account to varying degrees in schools, higher education institutions and in adult education.

As a rule, the language of instruction in higher education is also German. Individual classes may also be conducted in a different language if it serves the objectives of the course of study. The institutions of higher education are making increasing use of this possibility. This particularly applies to the internationale Studiengänge (international degree courses). As a rule, the main element of these study courses is the fact that a foreign language – predominantly English – is used as the language of instruction and as a working language. This development is supported by the increasing internationalisation of institutions of higher education and the further evolution of the Bologna Process for the realisation of a European Higher Education Area.


The Basic Law (Grundgesetz) guarantees freedom of belief and conscience and the freedom of creed, religious or ideological; the undisturbed practice of religion is guaranteed (Art. 4). ). This guarantee can be invoked by both individuals and associations of individuals; the latter are referred to as religious communities or religious society under certain conditions.

There is no state church in the Federal Republic of Germany; the Basic Law guarantees the rights of the religious communities or religious societies (Art. 140). As religious communities, their relationship with the state has been adopted from the provisions of the 1919 Weimar constitution (Art. 136–139 and 141), which are part of the Basic Law, and is characterised by the principle of the separation of church and state. Unless religious communities were already corporations under public law before 1919, they can obtain this status on application if they offer the guarantee of permanence through their constitution and the number of their members (Art. 137 paragraph 5 No. 2 of the Weimar constitution) and adhere to the law. However, religious communities can also be organised under private law or dispense with a legal constitution. In some Länder, individual umbrella organisations of Islamic communities are regarded as religious communities. There are also religious communities outside the spectrum of Abrahamic religions which have the status of a corporation under public law such as the Bahá'í community in Germany.

In 2022, the Roman Catholic Church in Germany had 20.9 million members and the Protestant Church had 19.2 million members (just less than a third of the population each). The Evangelical Free Churches and the Orthodox Churches as well as the Jewish communities and their associations are also represented among others. Between 5.3 and 5.6 million Muslims with a migration background live in the Federal Republic, the largest group of whom are of Turkish origin.

According to the Basic Law, religious instruction is part of the curriculum in public-sector schools, except non-denominational schools, and is given in accordance with the doctrine of the religious community concerned (Art. 7, paragraph 3, sentences 1 and 2 GG). The stipulations contained in the Basic Law on religious instruction as a standard subject are not, however, applied in Bremen and Berlin since these Länder had already laid down different regulations under Land law on 1 January 1949, in other words prior to the promulgation of the Basic Law (Art. 141 GG). The validity of this so-called Bremer Klausel in the Land of Brandenburg has not yet been conclusively established.

In the majority of the Länder there are lessons for pupils of Jewish, Orthodox, Islamic and other faiths. 

The Basic Law stipulates that legal guardians have the right to decide whether children receive religious instruction (Art. 7, paragraph 2 GG). According to the Law on the Religious Education of Children (KErzG Gesetz über die religiöse Kindererziehung), once a child has reached the age of 12, the decision made by the parents must have the child's consent. From the age of 14, each child is free to decide whether to attend religious instruction, unless Land legislation makes other provision. For pupils who do not take part in religious education, in the majority of the Länder "ethics instruction" (under names such as ethics, philosophy, life design-ethics-religious studies, values and norms) has been established as a substitute subject, compulsory elective subject or regular subject, depending on the applicable law. According to the largely unanimous guidelines of the Länder, ethics instruction serves to educate and train pupils to make responsible and value-conscious judgments and actions. For the situation of Protestant and Catholic religious education in the Länder, please refer to the report of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs from 2023 (Kultusministerkonferenz), which updates and merges older reports. 

A new update of the reports is planned for 2023. A new version of the report on ethics education has been published in June 2020 under the title “On the situation of instruction in the subjects ethics, philosophy, fundamental questions of life – ethics – religious education (L E R), values and norms in the Federal Republic of Germany” (‘Zur Situation des Unterrichts in den Fächern Ethik, Philosophie, Lebensgestaltung-Ethik-Religionskunde (L E R), Werte und Normen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland’).