A ‘recipe for depopulation’? School closures and regional population decline in Saxony

Bilal Barakat, Vienna Institute of Demography

A popular notion asserts that closing the last primary school marks the demographic death of a community, because no young parents will remain, much less move in. This notion is frequently voiced but rarely subjected to rigorous analysis. Are school closures a cause or consequence of local decline? This study begins with a comprehensive review of existing research on the relationship between school location and local population decline. Testable hypotheses regarding the link between schooling and local population decline are derived from this review and we go on to analyse methodological problems relating to the empirical analysis of this relationship. A number of particular problems exist in this context, chiefly the fact that the temporal relation of events does not allow for a causal interpretation. Because school closures are partly based on enrollment forecasts, population decline may be a cause rather than a consequence, even if it occurs after the closure. However, not every school that is forecast to shrink is actually closed. Taking these insights into account, an empirical case study, namely the Eastern Germany province of Saxony for the period 1994--2007, is analysed statistically, based on municipality-level data from the provincial statistical office and the German Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development. In contrast to the prevailing discourse, there is little discernible evidence for an effect of primary school closures on local population decline. This result is discussed in light of prevailing contextual factors such as home ownership.

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Presented in Session 37: Spatial redistribution of population in European countries