Friday, May 05, 2006

Germany gives the family a try

In an effort to boost fertility Germany is taking another small step in 2007 by setting up a "familien politik". This time in the form of "elterngeld" whereby the parent (in Germany by tradition always the mother) who stays at home for the first 12 months receives a 67% compensation of their net income up to a certain maximum, plus if the father also pull his weight that period can be extended by 2 months to 14. Another step, but is it enough?

What´s so special about this program is that for the first time it also puts some responsibility on the father to stay at home. That´s a first. Germans still have a traditional view of the family with the "caring mother" at home and the husband at work. This view is reflected in the political spectrum as well. The conservative CSU needed some persuading by Familienministerin Ursula von der Leyen* while parties on the left had issues with finances and the progressive compensation system.

Is this enough to give the birthrate a boost? If there is, the effect it will be limited. First, the truth is there´s really no way to pay for this, but the money has to come from somewhere. So families will be hit by various tax hikes in 2007. Like the planned 3% VAT hike which will hit people with children far more than those without. Second and perhaps more importantly the "children should stay at home"-view continues to dominate. There´s still no proper infrastructure for childcare, at least in West Germany. Something like creches or childcare facilities are still a rarity there. Third the effect may only be temporary, leading to temporary increase in births by women who planned to have children anyway before falling back to the average level. Finally, some programs can be counterproductive. An earlier attempt by Schroder´s Red-Green coalition were women could stay home for 3 years before returning back to work resulted in a lot of women not going back to work at all.

* Also known in Germany as "Supermutter" because she has seven children and is proud to show off that it is possible to have a career at the same time, much to the chagrin of some in Germany.


Jason Lindo said...

" if the father also pull his weight." Could you explain this?

CapTVK said...

Sorry if i wasn´t entirely clear on that point. I was using an expression. It refers to "pulling his weight" (in this case at home), e.a spend some time at home to take care of the child instead of leaving it entirely to the mother.

Scott said...

The problem that I see is that the reason Germans are not having enough children to replace the elderly dying off is due to strongly held beliefs about family size that are not going to be swayed by a few government programs. As a father of three, I can say that raising children is hard work. I believe it is fair to say that to many couples, both in Germany and throughout the world, children are seen as more of a potential hassle than a source of happiness. Just take a look at all the people with pets and no children.
In addition, the environmentalist movement is strong in Germany, and a significant tenet of that movement is the idea that humans are a threat to the natural world and thus the fewer humans around the better.

S.M. Stirling said...

With respect to German demographics, there are two patterns.

A substantial proportion of German women have no children -- about a third, or a little less.

The ones who do have children are likely to have two or three.

This is rather different from the situation in many other European countries.

If Germany wants to turn its demography around, the obvious solution would be to analyze the factors separating the two groups, and try to enlarge the second at the expense of the first.