In my other life (the one where I work behind a desk in an enormous pink-and-white building veined with gray-office-lined hallways) this past month, I needed to write a few articles about parenting in Germany, and, accordingly, I did a lot of reading on the subject. Expat parents. Custody law. Statistics. Averages. Birth stories. Studies. Interviews. At the end of it all I had four articles and one conclusion: if you’re going to spawn, Germany is an incredibly pleasant place to do so.
While some countries still allow employers to not only dismiss pregnant women, but to dismiss them on grounds of being pregnant (coughtheUSAcoughcough), Germany has a lovely law called the Mutterschutzgesetz (Maternity Protection Act). Women cannot be fired while they are pregnant. They do not have to work during the six weeks leading up to their due date (unless they want to), and they are not allowed to return to work until at least eight weeks post-hatch (though women can take up to three years leave)—and all of this is paid. And employers must provide appropriate breaks and break rooms and flexibility and and and. Basically, it helps lessen discrimination against mothers and mothers-to-be at work. (Father’s could still use a bit more support in this department however.)
The German government will also pay you a stipend for every kid you have. Monthly. Until the kid turns 21 (or 25, depending on student status). That’s a lot of fucking money. For kid numbers one and two you’ll receive 184 euro per month per child, and for every subsequent child you’ll receive an additional 215 euro/month. And new parents can take up to three years maternity or paternity leave and expect to find their jobs waiting for them when they return. And you can expect to be paid a percentage of your salary during the first year.
So why does the German government deem it prudent to throw enormous sacks of money into the wallets of parents? Historically the Kindergeld program (aka those payments I mentioned) was created by a bunch of racist fools interested in helping more “Aryan” families breed. But the program exists today because the population is shrinking, and that means the taxpayer base is shrinking, and that means that soon there will be more retired folks than there are young people paying into the health insurance and pension plans that support them.
Herein lies one of the (environmentally) fatal flaws of this sort of government: overpopulation is making our species even more unsustainable than its cultural habits already were, the planet (and we) are the worse for it, and yet, because governments require citizens (and therefore children) to function, they are offering bribes to anyone willing to breed in hopes of continuing with business as usual. And yet it seems that Germany has accidentally stumbled upon a great way to deal with overpopulation/reduce population numbers—by offering a situation in which both people who choose to have children and people who choose not to have them have a thorough support network.
The question of dealing with overpopulation is an incredibly touchy one, and I for one would fight to the death with rabid wolves before I’d let the government tell me or anyone else how many children we were allowed to have. And of course Hitler-esque “solutions” are despicable, not to mention unthinkable. (And yet when you get to discussing how population numbers could be reduced, somebody in the room always makes a snarky comment about the Third Reich.) Yet a first step in reducing overpopulation has nothing to do with eliminating people who were already born, but giving people the tools they need should they choose not to give birth to any more people (or choose to only have one child instead of five, etc).
Sure, in Germany you’ll find more than adequate support for parents (more than in the United States in any case), and that’s great. But there is also plenty of support for people who don’t want to have children—access to birth control, abortion, and education—and I’d bet that has something to do with the fact that no bribe has been able to stop the birth rate here from decreasing. Give people the tools and the support they need to make a decision either way and coercion is out of the equation.
If German parenting culture interests you, here are the fruits of my very metaphorical labor this month at work. Sure, my usual writing style has been neutralized into government-compliance, but facts abound.
NOTE: A friend recently told me about a study that I really wanted to mention here, but couldn’t find to cite. Story was, birth rates decreased in direction relation to an increase in education levels among women. As way of offering a bit of “proof” for this hypothesis.