What Germany’s beer consumption says about its demographic shift


German chancellor Angela Merkel drinks beer during a political meeting on Feb. 13. (AP Photo/Stefan Sauer)

Germans are drinking less beer now than at any time since 1990, a big change for the country that gave the world Oktoberfest.

NPR’s Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reported Thursday on a recent German study that found Germans drink less beer now than they did a generation ago. While that report is new, the trend isn’t -- Germans have been drinking less for years, to the immense consternation of the country’s brewing industry.

According to the German Brewers Federation, per capita consumption peaked at 151 liters in 1976. It’s now down to a relatively paltry 106.6 liters per capita -- or 28 gallons, roughly a third more than Americans drink each year.

Experts have offered a plethora of reasons for the drop, from German drinkers’ boring tastes to lifestyle changes to the impact of the recession. Marc-Oliver Huhnholz, the spokesman for the brewers federation, told NPR the drop-off is demographic: “The people become older and less younger [people] are following,” he said.

Germany certainly faces a serious population shift. Low birth rates and greater life expectancy have shifted the population upward, much as they have in the United States. A 2010 forecast by Germany’s statistical office predicted that one in three people would be older than 65 by 2060, and that the population overall would shrink by as much as 21 percent.

But even if Germany boasts fewer beer-drinkers than before, the rest of the world has taps to spare. According to the brewers federation, German beer exports have grown prodigiously since the mid-90s -- including exports to the United States, which has developed its own taste for German brews.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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