Working mothers: poverty trap children | Germany | DW

Childcare in Germany is often touted abroad as a model that is both affordable and good for working parents. In reality, many mothers who want to combine their careers with parenthood find themselves in a system that seems to keep them out of the labor market altogether.

“In our city there are at least 40 children who do not have a place in kindergarten,” says Julia, a working mother living in southeastern Germany, “even though the state is legally obliged to offer childcare for children over 3 years old But the municipalities does not advertise work in the kindergarten or do anything to make it more attractive The children who get a place are placed in large groups and if an employee gets sick or is absent, which is understandable given the poor pay and working conditions , these families are just unlucky.”

The 38-year-old high school teacher adds: “Of course, if you can’t find a nanny or daycare, you can sue the local government, but most people don’t go through the trouble just to maybe end up with a place 90 minutes’ drive away.”

Pressure on women to work part-time

Susanne Kuger, childcare expert at the German Youth Institute (DJI), confirms that “the number of families who actually go to court is extremely small” and instead choose “to send the children to the grandparents or to more expensive private day care centers and nannies when they are able. When this is not possible, a parent, usually the mother, must reduce working hours or delay returning to work altogether.”

She says that “every childminder can set their own hours”, regardless of whether it is conducive to a full-time position or not, and that there is often pressure to pick up the children at the latest at 2 p.m.

In 2022, well over one million full-time positions will be filled in Germany. One proposal is to promote some of the 11 million part-time workers – 80 percent of whom are women – to these full-time positions. However, childcare proves to be the biggest obstacle.

In a broad 2020 DJI survey, 49 percent of parents with children under the age of three said they needed childcare. Of this, only 24 percent were able to cover the required number of hours with a nanny or day care provider. For children over the age of three, 97 percent needed childcare, and only 71 percent of parents said they got the hours they needed.

But for many parents who have claimed to be able to get the childcare they need, the truth is that one parent has only accepted that if they can return to work at all, they will have to work part-time.

“The expectation is clearly that with heterosexual couples, that parent is the mother,” says Julia, who had to reduce her working hours after the local government took six months to respond to her childcare request. “It’s an extremely difficult situation when you don’t have support, like grandparents who live nearby and are willing and able to take care of the children.”

High hurdles for immigrant families

The problem for immigrant families without this social support network is even more serious, says Alexandra Jähnert from DJI. “The system of registering children for care is complex, usually only available in complicated bureaucratic German, and there is often a lack of support for families unfamiliar with how German authorities work,” she says, adding that the web of various lion. and opportunities in 16 different federal states and countless local governments make the barriers for immigrants even higher. This also results in highly variable costs, with care costing hundreds of euros per month in some cities, while being completely free in others.

Not all families in Germany get a daycare place for their children

Jähnert says that for both immigrant women and German citizens, “there is a vicious circle that day care centers favor couples where both parents work. But if you can’t find a day care place, you can’t find a job or go back to your old one. “

The German tax system is unfriendly to women

A 2020 study by the Bertelsmann Foundation found that even before the coronavirus pandemic forced more women to stay at home, “giving birth to children costs mothers up to two-thirds of their lifetime earnings.” The reasons for this: low wages during parental leave, the fact that they are forced to work part-time or stay at home, and a peculiarity of the German tax system known as “Ehegattensplitting” – all three factors that also affect pension payments in Germany fall later in life.

Spousal division means that married couples can be placed in different tax brackets, which means that one spouse pays significantly more than the other (usually the wife). This means that the couple pays less tax overall, but one partner takes home a much smaller net income at the end of the month. For many, this is just one more incentive to stay home with young children instead of spending every penny of their remaining income on childcare.

“It is therefore not surprising that, as a result of the split between spouses, many women in particular do not work at all or work very little,” writes economist Marcel Fratzscher in “Zeit”. And adds: “Studies show that in no other industrialized country – apart from Belgium – do the effects of the tax system have a greater negative impact on working hours than in Germany.”

Similar studies show that mothers in the German labor market are much less likely than fathers to be invited to job interviews and are much less likely to work as many hours as they would like. This affects their pension payments and pushes them into poverty in old age.

According to a survey by the German Economic Institute (IW), 69 percent of mothers with children under the age of three did not work at all in 2021, although only 27 percent wanted to. About 21 percent work less than 20 hours a week, according to the IW, largely due to a lack of adequate childcare.

“In the last 20 years, the role model of mothers in Germany has changed a lot,” writes study author Wido Geis-Thöne, especially in the way women see themselves after having children. However, the German labor market still has a lot of catching up to do to accommodate women’s desire to return to full-time work.

Childcare options also had to be expanded to make this full-time work possible. “Daycare workers should be better paid, have better opportunities for advancement and the profession itself should be changed to encourage better training of staff and a higher profile of the profession,” said Susanne Kuger.

“Germany needs 160,000 new employees to meet the need for childcare places in the coming years,” she adds. While there are many initiatives at the local level to increase the number of childcare facilities and staff, a much bigger push is needed at the state and federal level if Germany is to promote equality between working mothers and fathers.

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