Sunday, April 22, 2012

Feminism in Germany and the US – Family Planning

In the United States every woman gives birth to 2,07 children, in Germany the number is 1,36 (numbers according to the UN, for 2009). The US is the western country with the highest birth rate. This can partly be explained due to the fact that the US has a high number of immigrants, who tend to have bigger families. However, Germany also has a proportionally large number of immigrants and still has a significantly lower birth rate, even though in Germany the state makes a huge effort to encourage couples to have children. Parents receive a monthly allowance per child (184 Euro for the first and second child, 190 Euro for the third child, 214 for the fourth and any further children,  184 Euro=244 Dollar, paid until the child leaves school or turns 25, whichever happens first) . The German state passed laws that protect mother’s rights, for example employers have to pay mothers while they are on leave from work, which is required six weeks before and 8 weeks after giving birth. Recently Germany also passed legislation that is intended to encourage parents to stay at home with their children- the state basically pays one parents to stay home and bond with the child. The legislation is very complex and generally very encouraging to have children (although the latest attempts to encourage parents to stay at home have been met with harsh criticism). Still, Germans have significantly fewer children then Americans.  The US is the only western country that does not guarantee mothers a paid leave from work. Education is much more expensive in the US, furthermore the US is among the few UN member states that did not ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (along with Somalia, South Sudan, Niue and the Cook Islands). 

Why is there such a significant difference even though the legislation indicates that the numbers should be vice versa?
“In Germany in particular there was a very dogmatic women's movement. Of course, that's bound up with German tradition. The whole leftist scene was also very dogmatic. And when I returned from Paris, that really shocked me - this insistence on right-wrong, black-white, enemy-friend. I wasn't used to that from Paris. The women's movement there had a lot of rather anarchist tendencies. We had no specific agenda, and we took pleasure in the contradictions.” Alice Schwarzer in an interview with Deutsche Welle 10/25/11

Alice Schwarzer is the most influential feminist in Germany, she is viewed as the figurehead of the 2nd wave of feminism. She has no children. Recently Kristina Schroeder, Federal Ministry of Family Affairs,  Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, published a book that takes a very critical stance on feminism in Germany and the roles it preaches to women. She is critical of Alice Schwarzer and similar figureheads of German feminism and believes that women are to be blamed for limiting themselves. Her book has been met with huge criticism (Open letter by the Green Party). She recently gave birth to her first child and was the first German minister to become a mother while in office. She was the target of harsh criticism then, too (for returning to work full time soon after giving birth, for publishing her wedding pictures etc.).  Spiegel columnist Jakob Augstein claims her stance is only semi-liberal and that in reality she serves as a symbol of the Christian Democratic Party’s new conservatism. He views her opinion (“If you fail it is your own fault.”) as an American ideology and points out that the German society is just not as family friendly, that it is still very hard to be a working mother if you are not a well-paid politician. After all, the German language even has a word for someone who is a bad mother

Augstein’s reference to the stance of the Christian Democratic Party is very relevant in this context: It is Angela Merkel’s party. She has no children. Gerhard Schroeder had a step daughter while he was the chancellor, adopted one child at the end of his 2nd term and another in 2006 when he was no longer chancellor. Helmut Kohl had two sons but was not viewed as a loving father. His son recently published a book in which he describes how much he suffered because of his father.  The last US president to have no children at all was Buchanan, the last who only had a child out of wedlock was Harding.

The difference in the number of children being born can therefore mostly be credited to a difference in mentality.    

She talks about the incentives that the state offers in an effort to get people to have more children at 5:45.


Morgan said...

Fun fact: Buchanan is my distant relative!

X said...

Very thought provoking. Very tough stuff for women.

Hannah said...

Interesting topic, Jakob Augstein's comment on stating that "German society is not as family friendly" was a bit confusing because it seems that legislation is quite friendly especially when it comes down to encouraging a parent to stay home and offering paid leave, something as stated the U.S. has not completely accomplished. Or is it that German society encourages mothers, as long as they remain at home? would this be the same for fathers as well, equally as encouraged to stay at home?
Also if looking back just at the birth rate difference other factors could play into this (our teen birth rate is much higher and has increased in recent years for instance but I wonder if the same pattern has also been seen for Germany, perhaps to a lesser extent?)

Theresia said...

I would agree with Lind's conclusion, that the reason why there are less children born in Germany than in the U.S., even though Germany seems to support families in some ways better than the U.S. supports them, it due to cultural differences. In many ways I can see why this might be connected to the feminist movement in Germany. I think one could even argue that a women not planing on having a career, is seen as week. I have the feeling that in German society a lot is expected form women or women expect a lot from themselves. This is just some wild guess, but I could imagine that Germans are also much more cautious with their family planing, first everything has to be perfect, especially the financial situation. Having a child is often regarded has a hamper for pursuing the career and being able to have more money. I had the feeling that in America mothers were more appreciated in society. Even if they don't get as much governmental support as in Germany, families and mothers seem to play a larger role in American society.