Being a mom in the US and having had to deal with an inferior governmental support system to raise my kids, a current debate in Germany has caught my attention. What can the government do to turn the declining birth rate around that is threatening to lead to a collapse of the social system and lack of qualified workers in the future?
Over the past years the German government has shifted more and more tax money into making having kids affordable. Let’s start with maternity benefits.
There is a freaking designated law protecting mothers!
- They are not allowed to work 6 weeks before estimated due date until 8 weeks after birth.
- During that time they are being compensated for their income loss at 100% of their net-salary.
- They have the right to leave their job for up to 3 years with the guarantee to be able to go back to the same job afterwards.
- They have the right to be able to work part time during the first three years of their child.
- Pregnant women are forbidden from working jobs that could harm the baby or mother and the employer has to give them a different task for the duration of pregnancy. During this time they also cannot be laid off or fired.
Beyond that, the so-called “Parent Money” is paid to parents for up to 14 months after the birth of a child as a compensation for lost income if one parent is staying home and caring for the child. It is generally 65% of your net-income. Then there is also the “Children Money”: In Germany every family gets 184 Euro ($246) per child per month until the child starts to have an income or turns 25. No conditions or income limitations tied to it.
Daycare and preschool are heavily subsidized, or even free in some communities.
But apparently all that massive spending is not working. It might make parenthood more affordable and easy on the parents that have kids anyway, but the money does not magically make people reproduce.
“Money doesn’t make babies” was a headline in the German news that caught my eye and made me start to think about what a government could do to convince me to have another child. To be clear – I am done with having kids. The certainty of this decision rose from 99% right after Felix birth to 100% as of right now. Having done the first two kids completely without any financial support from the government, you would think that money could make a difference to me. What if I had an extra $500 a month? Or $1000 or $2000? I would probably find a thousand other ways to spend that money on my existing family rather than on a new baby. Felix could go to daycare so that Linc and his parents get more work done. Milo could do more extracurricular classes. We could start saving for their college funds, etc., etc. In short – the government couldn’t pay me enough money without going broke to get me to make another baby.
So now the German politicians and anybody else involved in the debate are looking into other ways to facilitate reproduction, particularly among young and educated citizens. The compatibility of raising kids with having a career is being brought up a lot. Childcare options need to me more widely available, work hours more flexible, pay rates and employment opportunities equal between mothers and child-less people.
Well, Germany, I can give you that perspective as somebody who is working with a highly progressive company in a very flexible job that allows me to raise children while having a perfectly fulfilling career: It doesn’t make me want to have another baby either. Babies make the same job exponentially harder, regardless of how flexible it is. Sleep deprivation, distraction by sick children or other parental concerns, make it really hard to focus sometimes and you have to push yourself way harder to get the same results as back in the days when you were well rested and all that mattered was yourself and your own pleasure. Maybe if I had the right to be able to work part time, it would make life with children and career easier. But I still wouldn’t have another baby because of it.
In my eyes what it all boils down to is that a government can do whatever they want and it won’t change people’s attitude towards having children or how many they want to have. Some people want 3-4 kids and they will do it regardless of any circumstances. Some people want only 1 or 2 kids, and nothing can change their mind. The reality is that more and more people move over to the 1-2 kids spectrum, rather than pursuing the big family model.
Without quoting any studies or other scientific backup I’m gonna go ahead and use my own opinion to explain this phenomenon. Young people today want to fulfill themselves. As freely and long as possible. We have an abundance of different career paths, opportunities for great life experiences, travel, etc. We delay having children as long as possible.
What if being a mother is part of your need to fulfill yourself? Then you have satisfied that longing after one child. Maybe, only maybe, you will have a second baby to give your first child the opportunity to experience siblinghood. But anything beyond that would restrict your and your family’s opportunities unnecessarily. Everything would get more expensive, traveling and luxuries not longer affordable in the extend that we like, and life just more complicated and restricted. Three kids outnumber the parents. Three is the magic number when everything gets out of balance. When you have fewer hands than kids to handle.
It’s not for me. And nothing can change that.