Germany has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe and it continued to decline between 2001 and 2011.
This is despite Angela Merkel’s government spending a lot of money on subsidies promoting and helping families. So why has this investment seemingly not payed off?
Euronews spoke to Marlene Griesser who chose to put her son in day care when he was 9 months old: “I was divided, I wanted to finish my teacher training. And then a lot of time passed by. It was just too long. I wanted to do something for myself, because I had a long break between the two kids where I didn’t work. And it encouraged me to do something else.“
Marlene added: “People sometimes said to me: ‘How come you’ve got such a small child and yet you’re doing your teacher training at the same time? How do you cope?’ They were surprised, but not dismissive. Sometimes my girlfriends who go back to work very early tell me that it has a strange reputation in Germany because usually women stop for at least a year or longer. Sometimes there’s a bit of disapproval in the community.”
To help increase the birthrate Angela Merkel’s government decided to fork out family subsidies amounting to 200 billion euros a year. But this seems to have had little success.
A huge project to construct day care centres in Germany could be one way to change the trend. It’s a system that is well developed in France and Scandinavian countries, which also boast higher birthrates.
So by August 1st, everyone in Germany was promised a place in day care, if needed. The Ministry for Family called it a ‘success story’. But according to the German Association of Towns and Municipalities there were still 100,000 places missing.
Euronews spoke to Udo Drews and Sabine Radtke who had still not been allocated a place at a day care centre after more than a year. The delay meant they had to choose a private one – which was more than twice the cost of a public facility. A full-time place there costs more than 1,000 euro a month.
Sabine explained: “I’m disillusioned, not angry. I think we are lucky because we have flexible employers and we’ve found a private centre which we like. But I’m disillusioned because the government promises more than it can fulfill and we are paying more then we ever imagined. It doesn’t fit with all the positive news about how good the situation is.”
Other parents in their situation have opted for a nanny which is far more expensive. The government’s recent promises have turned out to be very costly for some families.
In Cologne, where half of children aged between one and two received a place in day care, some 80 parents pressed charges against the city. However, in East Germany the measures have been a little easier to achieve because of its communist past, where day care centres were already quite normal.
Dr Agnes Klein, head of the family department on Cologne city council said: “We’ve arrived at a turning point. I can remember discussions I had eight years ago, when people in Germany talked about the possible damage on children who were in school all day. If this works in other European countries, why should it damage German children?”
So why do qualified women in Germany have no children at all, or why do they tend to start a family later in life? Some students think it’s because of the country’s long studies.
“I know students in other countries who also study law but they finish earlier. This means they can start work earlier and then you can start thinking of having a family” suggested Maria Anochin, a law student.
Shirin Imani, also a student, said: “I think it’s extremely difficult to stop once you’ve started working because by then you like your job and you think: now I want to take the next step at work and only after that I’ll think of having a family. I think at some point you just have to take the leap and stop working, but you’ll always think that you probably won’t get the same opportunities after giving birth.”
In Germany, more women then men have higher education qualifications but most of the executive posts are still in the hands of men.
Law Professor Gregor Thüsing believes this pattern is established in the early years of the professional life: “At a time when it’s important in a company to make a career and to be physically present, many female graduates chose the ‘opt out’ solution: They prefer staying at home with the children.”
Equal opportunities and work life-balance are issues that company Deutsche Post takes very seriously, in contrast to other businesses in Germany. The courier company has a women’s quota and its own kindergartens. And the equal opportunities don’t stop there, with more and more fathers at the company choosing flexible working hours.
Susanne Nezmeskal the corporate affairs manager at the company explained: “It’s very interesting, because if you take into account the new statistics, the work/life balance is very important to the younger generation. Some time ago, they just wanted to make a career and get a high salary. But if you ask them now what is most important, they chose the work/life balance of a company.”