'Bad mother' mindset keeps German birthrate low: study
A national mindset branding working mothers as bad parents is a key factor keeping the German birthrate among the lowest in Europe, creating long-term policy challenges, a study released Monday showed.
A lack of nursery spots, inflexible working hours and widespread frowning on mothers who pursue careers are destroying Germans' desire to have children, researchers at the Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB) found.
With the fertility rate of German women at 1.39, there are only 10 European countries with a lower rate.
"This low birthrate has major social significance in the long run because it is one of the main causes of the shrinking and ageing of the population," said the authors of the study titled "(No) Desire for Children?" by the BiB, which is part of the interior ministry.
In Germany, they said, "the mother belongs to her child and must not leave him or her with a carer before the age of three just because she wants to work," describing the prevailing mentality particularly in the west of the country.
"Choosing another path means to quickly become a 'raven mother' (a German expression for a bad mother) in western Germany," they said, noting a contrast with the ex-communist east where care options for young children are more abundant and working mothers are traditionally more accepted.
"Mother's work is associated with a decrease in the child's wellbeing while fathers are not thought to have the same abilities in raising children as mothers," they wrote.
In a move to try to make starting a family more attractive, the government from August 2013 will grant children under three a legal claim to a nursery place or with a child carer, although recent data showed the country was behind in its timetable.
Those looking after young children at home will be entitled to a government subsidy, following recent legislation passed after a heated debate.
"Family policy must allow freedom of choice," a family ministry spokeswoman told reporters Monday.
"That is the reason why we have a relatively wide range of options to support families and allow them to have a choice. But it will take a while for this change to take effect and can't be accomplished from one day to the next."
Chancellor Angela Merkel warned in October that the ageing population poses the biggest challenge of this century to Germany.