Praying for Parents

Germany Hopes Its Young People Can Again Believe in a Future With Children

Opinion | Jan Karnath | June 2007

In Germany, there is a word for a woman who has both a child and a full-time job. It’s "Rabenmutter", and it means uncaring mother. The term flourished in the 1930s through the heyday of the Nazi party and is now still used in "umgangssprache" or informal talk, especially in rural areas of Germany.

Then there’s the word for housewife, "Hausmutterchen," often used to slight women who choose to stay home with the kids. It implies being a little bit stupid and leaving all decisions to the  husband .While neither word is exactly on the tip of everyone’s tongue in Germany, both words are common enough to effect young women who are making decisions about work and motherhood.

As women with children either work for pay or stay home with their children, the choices they make are being closely studied amid growing national dismay over a declining birth rate.

At 1.3 babies per woman of child-bearing age, the birth rate is far less than the 2.1 rate that researchers say is needed to maintain a stable population. The not-so-funny joke among demographers here is that unless women start having more babies, Germany could be extinct by 2020.

Efforts to shore up the birth rate have been mainly unsuccessful so far. Germany’s family minister Ursula von der Leyen introduced tax breaks last year to help couples that wanted children. Increased nursery places and a new state-funded welfare scheme requiring men to take two months off work for families to qualify were also introduced, but none of the changes have had a significant impact on the rate of birth.

The fact that thirty per cent of German women have chosen not to have children at all (according to European Union statistics from 2005), with the figure rising among female graduates to 40% shows that the decision for a lot of women in Germany is career or children. A lot of women think that they can only compete with their male competitors if they don’t have a " career hole " or that the challenge to combine both parts is too  big a disadvantage.

Another reason for the low birth rate is the image presented by the media to the people. In films, newspapers, billboards and in politics, the picture of the independent, smart, tough and successful women is present everywhere and creates a benchmark for young women. A hidden attribute of this picture is the fact that a lot of women who fulfil these values are childless, for ex. Angela Merkel, Condoleezza Rice or Carly Fiorina of Hewlett Packard. The media is drawing a picture that implies that it is necessary to be childless to reach your goals.

All these different factors lead to the problem of a low birth rate, there is no perfect answer just suggestions what could change the attitude of a whole society. I think a major point is that "father brakes" need to be more respected and the behaviour of raising a child "together" has to become more common. If these changes do not come quickly, there is a significant risk that if Germany cannot figure out how to get its citizens to reproduce, the government will be unable to evolve into a unified economic community, and will instead end up fighting for people.

Other articles from this issue