More and More “Diaper Volunteers” – Family Allowance brings Dads back Home
300 euros per child for two years, whether Mum or Dad takes care of him or her. Nevertheless, the old parental leave model did provide for clear cut role allocation: up until December 31, 2006, only about 2% of German fathers were able or wanted to take a leave of absence from work to help raise their children. Raising children was women’s work, not least because even now women earn about 20% less than men. Having Dad stay home was an option many families simply could not afford.
January 1, 2007 was therefore awaited with great anticipation. The working parent who stays home after the birth of a child receives 67% of his or her net salary, maximum 1,800 euros for 14 months, if the other parent also changes diapers for two months instead of going to work. Federal Minister for Family Affairs Ursula von der Leyen (CDU), the driving force behind the law, wished above all to accomplish one thing: to recruit more fathers for parental responsibility. Her party colleagues, most of all from the ranks of the CSU (the conservative Bavarian party allied with the CDU – translator’s note), made fun of her with remarks like: “the last thing we need is an army of diaper volunteers!”
But it worked: according to the German Federal Bureau of Statistics, in 2007 alone over 105,000 fathers (15.4%) took parental work leave. Just under 35% took parental work leave for even longer than 2 months – and thereby exceeding the ministerial budget: “the fathers have burst the budget for 2007; that is the best thing that could happen to our country!” was von der Leyen’s enthusiastic summary of the situation.
Wish and realityFor a long time now, not only stressed-out mothers have been yearning for a better “work-life balance.” A 14-country survey by the Robert Bosch Foundation showed that German men in particular have long since ceased to want to be restricted to the role of financial provider and breadwinner for their families. Changing diapers, piling up building blocks, looking at picture books: above all, young fathers long for active time with their children and see their optimal fulfillment located midway between their children and the office. Family expert Prof. Wassilios E. Fthenakis confirms this trend as well: “The new generation of fathers absolutely wants a balance between family and professional life.” The family allowance has made the first, important step possible here. Especially for fathers in higher income brackets, it was practically impossible to defer earnings for the sake of their babies until “Day One” of 2007. The disbursement of 67% of net income constitutes an attractive option. To turn one’s back on one’s job and return to family life, and be assured of financial security in doing so: more and more German fathers are taking a liking to this. Mothers, too. Flexible family allowances permit them increased decision-making leeway in shaping their wishes for their professional and personal lives.
Modern role allocationThey carry their babies in wraparound slings over their stomachs, cook cream of wheat, and go to the toddlers’ group: modern fathers do everything that used to be the wife’s domain. The traditional role allocation (husband as earner, stay-at-home wife) has practically vanished, above all in the minds of young couples between 18 and 35 years of age. According to the Bureau of Statistics, only 22% still prefer the classical version. Trend? Downwards. A study conducted by the Institute of Sociology at the University of Würzburg has shown that a return (even temporary) to the traditional role allocation defeats even modern couples who believe in equality. Once a woman has mastered running the household on her own for a few years, it is highly probable that this task will stay with her, even if she returns to work later on. Here, too, the family allowance has a regulative effect, as both partners alternate in taking care of their baby, and the burden of household and family obligations is shared out onto two sets of shoulders.
Feedback from the job marketTake leave from one’s job for months? Possibly interrupting one’s career? In spite of all positive results, Ursula von der Leyen deplores that “80% of men still fear they will be subjected to an avalanche of ridicule and mockery if they wish to stay home for a few months.” But the family allowance is still a novelty, and even the most motivated of family ministers cannot expect a 180-degree change of course in less than two years. First changes and bright lights on the horizon are beginning to make themselves known. An increasing number of firms and employers seek to implement family-friendly corporate structures, and are obtaining help to do so. More than 600 businesses, institutions and universities are being supported in this effort by the berufundfamilie gGmbH (i.e. work and family – a non-profit organization), an initiative of the Hertie Foundation. In addition, the award-winning Hamburg association Vaeter e. V. (i.e. fathers’ association) advises companies seeking change. Volker Baisch, Vaeter e. V.’s business director, is convinced that the number of fathers taking parental work leave will continue to increase. “I am often surprised at how uncomplicated the issue has already become in many businesses. The combinability of family and profession, and therefore part-time work options for fathers are on the agenda.”
Family allowance (January 1, 1986–December 31, 2006)
Under the former family allowance system, the parent who was the child’s primary care-giver could aply for 300 euros for 24 months, or alternatively 450 euros for 12 months. A maximum of 30 hours of part-time work per week and staying within certain income limits were required.
Family allowance starting January 1, 2007
The family allowance is intended to aid working parents to realize their wish for children. The amount of the family allowance is determined by the income of the parent who interrupts his or her work to take care of the child. 67% of this parent’s net income is paid out, with a maximum of 1,800 euros per month. Non-working parents receive the minimum rate of 300 euros. The parents receive this support for 12 months if only one of them takes a parental work leave. A 2-month bonus is available if the other parent interrupts his or her earning to take care of the child, as well.
is a free-lance journalist.
Translation: Ani Jinpa Lhamo
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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