/ /

Black in Berlin: Why Motherhood May Not Be Worth It In Germany

Angela Merkel is an example of both Germany’s progressive and traditional values. As the Chancellor of Germany since 2005, she recently topped Forbes Magazine‘s list of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.” She has no children. This isn’t a criticism but it sends a message. To become a powerful women in Germany, you have to make sacrifices, and children is most likely one of them.

After my post about German parental benefits, I did some investigative journalism (read: hassled my German friends) to find out why a third of German women are not having children. The truth is financial incentives are encouraging poorer German citizens to have children. The women who are opting out of starting a family are women with higher educations and careers and this is not effecting Germany alone. Studies show that as education increases women typically defer childbirth in pursuit of careers and higher paying jobs. I think Germany is a greater victim of this phenomena due to the widespread negative attitudes and systematic discrimination against working mothers in this country.

At first I didn’t realize this was such a problem, I was under the impression that Germany was a progressive country in all aspects including the modern family, but I was wrong. My first clue should have been during my interview. I was asked if I was married and if I had children. This came as a shock because in America questions like these are illegal to protect the employee against discrimination. My interrogator asked because I did not provide the information on my application. In Europe it is common practice to include your marital status, age, number of children and a photograph with your resume. Discrimination of any kind is enabled by the standard format of your resume.

Another clue came later, months into my current position during a management meeting. We were reviewing candidates for a leadership position and one woman was immediately disqualified. She had been described as an “unreliable element” because she had a small child. The other male managers nodded in agreement. When I looked around the table, I realized that all the men who were married with children had wives who were full-time homemakers. In talking to German peers it became clear that my company was not an anomaly, Germany in general still has antiquated ideas of motherhood. A woman who desired both a career and a family was irresponsible, a mother’s proper place was in the home. This is also reinforced by the availability of childcare. Multiple states in Germany don’t offer full day child care or school, letting out at 1 p.m. This might be ideal for women who need a few free hours to run errands and clean house but clearly not for a woman aiming to be an executive.

Societal pressures forcing women to choose between career or family is something Germany can’t afford. Female students are making up a large percentage of the university graduates, placing them on career paths. Enabling and encouraging women to manage both will ensure a healthy economy in the near future and maintain population numbers they desperately need in the long term.

Last 5 posts by Nicole is the new black

  • RS

    Perhaps it is also because only 25 percent of men want a partner who is professionally successful. 

  • Not hard to believe but in Berlin all I keep hearing about are these new dudes that want to stay home while with the kids while their wife works. Nothing wrong with that but in Berlin I have met 5 mens who claim this, not sure if this is a new line of game or if these guys are serious. Scandivians on the other hand are very progressive when it comes to parenting, earning, and gender roles.

  • This is a very interesting article you have written. I tend to think of this situation with another spin…

    Perhaps “progressive” like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. What I mean is that parenting is referred to, even in the United States, as a full-time job. Just like a full-time job, to do your best at it, you must dedicate majority of your time to it, and especially if you want to do your job quite well. 

    What I enjoy of European cultures, and also Asian and African cultures, is the fact that home and cultural values are extremely important to preserve and to pass down. I can’t say this is the case for North American families. Thus, I believe parenting here in the U.S. is going to be observed vastly differently than in a country like Berlin.

    So I’m thinking that overall, the demands of being a full-time parent in theory, is not less-progressive than other cultures, near or distant. Should mothers be discriminated against when looking for employment in Berlin/Germany? Absolutely not. Yet the ‘antiquated’ views Germans have on juggling both ‘jobs’ may be a traditionally inherent desire to provide a child with the best cultural and nurturing upbringing, as much as possible.