Working mothers: the poverty trap for children | Germany | DW

Childcare in Germany is often promoted abroad as an affordable and good model for working parents. But in reality, many mothers who want to combine their career and parenthood find themselves in a system that appears designed to keep them out of the labor market altogether.

“In our town there are at least 40 children who do not have a place in kindergarten,” says Julia, a working mother who lives in southeast Germany, even though the state is legally obligated to provide care for children over the age of three. But the municipalities do not advertise work in kindergartens or do anything to make them more attractive. Children who get a place are put into oversized groups and if an employee gets sick or is absent, which is understandable given the poor wages and working conditions, these families are out of luck.”

The 38-year-old high school teacher adds, “Obviously if you can’t find a nanny or daycare, you can sue the local government but most people don’t get into trouble just to get a place for a 90-minute drive.”

Pressure on women to work part-time

Susanne Kueger, a child care expert at the German Youth Institute (DJI), stresses that “the number of families that actually go to court is very small” and instead choose to “send children to grandparents or pay special day care to expensive grandparents at centers and nannies when They are able to. And when that is not possible, a parent, usually a mother, should reduce working hours or delay returning to work altogether.”

She says that “every nanny and daycare can set their own hours” whether or not that leads to a full-time job, and there is often pressure to pick up the kids by 2pm at the latest.

In 2022, more than 1 million full-time jobs will have to be filled in Germany. One suggestion is to upgrade some of the 11 million part-time workers — 80 percent of whom are women — to these full-time jobs. However, childcare proved to be the biggest hurdle.

In a large-scale 2020 DJI study, 49 percent of parents with children under the age of three said they needed childcare. Of those, only 24 percent were able to cover the required number of hours with a nanny or babysitter. For children over the age of three, 97 percent need childcare, and only 71 percent of parents said they get the hours they need.

But for the many parents who claimed they could get the childcare they needed, the truth is that one parent only accepted that if they could ever return to work, they would have to work part-time.

“The expectation is that with heterosexual couples, that parent is the mother,” says Julia, who had to cut back her hours after the local government took half a year to respond to her childcare request. “It’s a very difficult situation when you don’t have support, like grandparents who live nearby and are willing and able to take care of children.”

Big obstacles for immigrant families

Alexandra Jähnert of DJI says the problem of immigrant families without this social support network is even more serious. “The system for registering children for care is complex, usually only available in the complicated bureaucratic German language, and there is often a lack of support for families who are not familiar with how German authorities operate,” she says, adding that the network of different laws and options in 16 different federal states. And countless local governments are making the barriers to immigrants even higher. This also results in widely varying costs, with care costing hundreds of euros per month in some cities while being completely free in others.

Not every family in Germany has a place for daycare for their children

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

The German tax system is unfriendly to women

A 2020 Bertelsmann Foundation study found that even before the coronavirus pandemic forced more women to stay home, “having children costs mothers up to two-thirds of their lifetime income.” Reasons for this: lower wages while on parental leave, being forced to work part-time or staying at home, and the peculiarity of the German tax system known as “Ehegattensplitting” – the three factors also affect pension payments in Germany that decrease later in life.

Spouse splitting means that spouses can be categorized into different tax categories, which means that one spouse pays significantly more than the other (usually the wife). This means that spouses pay less taxes overall, but one partner brings home a much lower net income at the end of the month. For many, this is just another incentive to stay home with young children instead of spending every cent of the remaining income on childcare.

“It is therefore not surprising, as a result of the split between spouses, that many women in particular do not work at all or work very little,” wrote economist Marcel Fratzcher in the newspaper “Zeit”. “Studies show that in no other industrialized country – except for Belgium – there are more effects of the tax system on working hours than in Germany,” he adds.

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

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

“In the past 20 years, the role model of mothers in Germany has changed a lot,” study author Wido Geis-Thöne wrote, particularly in the way women see themselves after having children. However, the German labor market still has a lot to catch up with to meet women’s desire to return to full-time work.

Childcare options must also be expanded to make this full-time business possible. “Nursery workers should be paid better, have better opportunities for advancement, and the profession itself should be changed to encourage better employee training and a higher profile for the profession,” said Susan Cougar.

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

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