BERLIN, Nov 17 (Reuters) Germany could soon become a geriatric society with a crumbling economy that depends on a dwindling supply of increasingly sickly and poorly educated workers unless things change fast.
This is the bleak scenario depicted by the authors of a new report on children's welfare in Germany published this week.
''Germany is a colossus on the verge of collapse,'' Juergen Borchert, a judge and expert on welfare law who co-authored the report, told Reuters. ''Economically, this country is heading down the tubes fast because the children are no longer there.'' The study, Kinderreport Deutschland 2007, said the proportion of children living off the lowest level of welfare support was nearly 16 times higher today than it was in 1965.
Over the same period, the number of births has nearly halved, and it fell again in the first six months of 2007.
Yet though child poverty is rising, unemployment is falling as the economy posts its strongest sustained growth in years.
Germany, the home of the Kindergarten, is now the worst developed country in which to raise children, said Borchert.
''This individualistic attitude goes back to the post-war period as society took a stand against the Nazi era,'' he said.
''Family policy still suffers from the fact that Hitler adopted a specifically pro-family policy for the soldiers.'' Nearly a third of Germany's 82.5 million people remain childless all their lives, the report said -- far more than any other nationality. Countries like Italy also have very low birth rates, but single child families are much more widespread there.
Bernd Weidensteiner, an economist at DZ Bank in Frankfurt, said having few children around created a vicious circle.
''People simply aren't used to dealing with children any more,'' the father of two said. ''They're seen as a nuisance.'' Judge Borchert said Germany's social security system and taxes on consumption lay at the root of the problem.
Due to fixed levies on wages that fund state benefits, low income families with children, who spend the biggest share of their wealth covering everyday needs, are hit hardest, he said.
Yet studies show poorer families tend to have most children and are likelier to have health or educational problems.
''In 2030 we'll have 1.2 million people retiring and only 460,000 children per year around to deal with them,'' said Borchert. ''And we know many of the best simply leave Germany anyway. Last year we lost 150,000 with an average age of 32.'' REUTERS SYU RK0845