Germany's birth rate rose last year to its highest level in 12 years, helped by years of economic growth and government support, but not enough to offset the death rate, and its overall population continued to decline.Births rose by 4.8 percent in 2014 and climbed above the 700,000-threshold for the first time since 2004 to 714,966, the statistics office said on Friday.But the population still shrank by 153,407 in 2014, as 868,373 deaths outnumbered the births.The declining number of Germans is partly being offset by rising immigration. Some 8.6 percent of its population of 81.8 million are foreigners.Also, Germany has taken in 40 percent of the refugees arriving in the European Union this year. On Wednesday, the government raised its forecast for an influx of 800,000 people this year fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.Steady economic growth since 2010 and generous pro-family policies by successive governments in recent years have helped lift the birth rate, the statistics office in Wiesbaden said. Still, "we've got a lot of hard work ahead of us," said Family Minister Manuela Schwesig.The number of births is likely to start falling again, because economic upheaval cut the birth rate in the former East Germany after unification in 1990, officials said."There was a steep fall-off in births after 1990 and that means there are now fewer women in the main child-bearing ages," said Olga Poetzsch, a government statistician.