The steady population growth in western Germany after World War II was due in part to an initial "baby boom" but primarily to an influx of immigrants. Some 9.7 million displaced persons and refugees entered western Germany from the former eastern and southern Europe. By 1961, immigration from the GDR contributed greatly to western growth. the economically driven influx of foreign workers has played the greatest role since the 1960s. After 1972, death rates in the German population began to exceed growth rates. Another cause of the population decline after 1973 was the emigration of foreign workers and their families. As of 1989, 4.85 million foreigners lived in the western German states (including 1.6 million from Turkey, 610 000 from Yugoslavia, and 520 000 from Italy). Since then the population has continued to expand as a result of resettlement. Approximately 1 million persons migrated from eastern to western Germany between 1989 and 1992.

The birth rate in the 1970s was one of the lowest in Europe. The overall birth rate in 1978, for example, was 0.94% (the birth rate for the foreign segment of the population was estimated at 1.87%, compared with only 0.87% for the German segment). In 1980 the birth rate rose aboe 1% for the first time since 1972.

The population distribution is quite diverse, due mainly to a century of growth in economic and urban centers. The oldest of these centers is the Ruhr region; other population hubs are the Rhine-Neckar region, the Rhine-Main region, the Saarland, Berlin, Hamburg, Hannover, Munich, and the Nuremberg-Fürth area. At the urban level, large cities in particular have experienced above-average growth since the end of World War II. Recently, however, almost all large cities have been losing population as a result of migration to suburban areas.

The population in the territory of the former GDR increased after the war due to an influx of refugees and resettlement from eastern countries. It then showed a steady decline until the second half of the 1970s. This was due in part to the heavy influx of workers into West Germany up until 1961 and a disproportionately high female population as a result of the war. At the end of the 1980s, people left the eastern portions of Germany in great numbers, most seeking jobs; a total of 2 million people left the east between 1961 and 1990. The regional distribution of the eastern population is nonuniform. The land that lies roughly north of a line connecting the towns of Magdeburg, Dessau, and Görlitz is mostly farmland, and the population density in most of the districts is less than 100 inhabitants/km². In the heavily industrialized south, there are three dominant urban centers: Halle-Leipzig, Chemnitz-Zwickau, and the Dresden area, with population densities reaching 500 inhabitants/km². The Lusatia region is home to the Sorbs (about 60 000), an ethnic minority with their own language and culture. The foreign segment of the population is much smaller than in other parts of Germany: less than 2% in 1992 (mostly Vietnamese and Poles).