I have written about the sorry state of demographics in the developed world, where low births can’t keep up with rapidly declining populations to maintain the costly welfare systems.
Germany, along with Japan and Italy, were singled out.
From my humble point of view, Germany fails on two fronts: 1) poor public policies in both government and corporate sectors do not support a post-partum life that involves both children and career; 2) its patriarchal social structure effectively forces women to choose work over children in most instances.
So I was pretty happy to see the Germans taking a huge leap to tackle above-mentioned problem number one, which in time, will hopefully break down problem number two.
Starting with afternoon programs in school.
Unlike schools in North America where children can stay all day, in Germany, most schools close at noon.
Now, in the face of economic necessity, it is crumbling: one of the lowest birthrates in the world, the specter of labor shortages and slipping education standards have prompted a rethink. Since 2003, nearly a fifth of Germany’s 40,000 schools have phased in afternoon programs, and more plan to follow suit.
“This is a taboo we just can’t afford anymore; the country needs women to be able to both work and have children,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the German labor minister.
The spread of all-day schooling in Germany, a trend she considers “irreversible,” is a sign of the times, Ms. von der Leyen said in an interview. “The 21st century belongs to women.”
And surprisingly, but then again perhaps not so surprisingly, child-care infrastructure is way stronger in the former East Germany than it is in the west.
In the East, a Communist leadership losing male labor to the West set up free day care centers and all-day schools. Women drove cranes and studied physics. Western wives, by contrast, until 1977 officially needed husbands’ permission to work. By then, their Eastern peers had a year of paid maternity leave and shorter work hours if they nursed.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, female employment in the East was near 90 percent, in the West 55 percent.
Who would’ve known?
In general, the child care infrastructure remains much more developed in the former East: 37 percent of under-3-year-olds have nursery places, compared with 3 percent in the former West.
End of the day, what does the story of two Germanys with common cultural biases (when it comes to women and work) but separated by ideologies tell us? That in the long run, policies, if made with economic sense, trump culture.
In the UK, on the other hand, this very discussion became the butt of a somewhat unfunny publicity stunt. Perhaps social acceptance over whether women and work mix is such a non-issue in the UK, that this poster found itself up on the side of a bus.