NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A DYING NATION'S SCHIZOPHRENIA

May 15, 2006

Germans aren't reproducing fast enough to stave off extinction, says Silvana Koch-Mehrin, deputy head of the liberal group in the European Parliament. About a quarter of German women stay childless and the number is rising. Among university graduates the rate is 40 percent. Moreover, childless men outnumber childless women.

So, whose problem is it really? In 21st century Germany, childbearing has become a women-exclusive topic, says Koch-Mehrin:

  • In Germany, working mothers are still regarded as lousy moms; at the same time, if women decide against a career and stay home for their families, they receive no respect from society.
  • There is no country-wide day-care infrastructure, and labor laws are inflexible and the tax system sets incentives for only one partner, usually the man, to work; as a consequence, the birth rate is falling.
  • In contrast, France focuses on a policy more appropriate for the modern family, and it is normal for children to attend day-care centers from very early on; as a result, the birth rate is rising.

The chancellor seems to be determined to change the fate of working women. Recently, the coalition government agreed on so-called "Elterngeld," or parental money, an allowance for parents who take time off to look after their newborns. There's one hitch, though, says Koch-Mehrin:

  • It will only be paid for the maximum period of 14 months if both partners -- that is, including the father -- take time off. Otherwise, the money will be granted only for 12 months.
  • This incentive for fathers to get more involved in family affairs as well is certainly welcome, says Koch-Mehrin. But it will probably still lead to a situation where it is the mother who will have to make the biggest career sacrifices.

Source: Silvana Koch-Mehrin, "A Dying Nation's Schizophrenia," Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2006.

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