Baby panic in Germany

A low birthrate sparks a national conversation about the role of fathers and mothers in parenting.

Published January 27, 2006 2:40PM (EST)

Thirty percent of German women have not had children, which has the country's "family minister" wondering if Germany will soon have to "turn the light out."

The Guardian reported today that new stats from the European Union in 2005 show that Germany is a world leader in childless women. Among the more educated, the number of women who have never had kids is as high as 40 percent.

To combat this scourge of women without children, the government is pondering social programs such as requiring fathers to take two months off from work to care for a newborn if they want to qualify for state-funded child support. This particular idea has been met with ridicule from some male politicians who "derided the idea of men abandoning work to change nappies," the Guardian reports.

Ursula von der Leyen, Germany's family minister, who herself has seven kids, is shocked by the reaction to her notion of how to get more men involved in infant care: "Yesterday Ms von der Leyen said she had been taken aback by some hostile responses to her proposal that men should take two months off work," reports the Guardian. "One male television presenter demanded to know whether she wanted to whip men back into their homes. 'It shows the deep contempt with which raising children is regarded,' she said."

But when women have kids, and a career that requires travel, that draws tut-tutting, too. "Ms von der Leyen has attracted media flak for working in Berlin while her husband and seven children remain in Hannover. However, she told Stern: 'I'm astonished that women still have to justify themselves when they want to work. No father has to do this.'"

So, let's review: Germany is crying out for more kids. (No mention of allowing more immigration to help solve this "problem," but I digress.) Yet, moms working outside the home are sniffed at, and men who take time off from work to provide infant childcare are ridiculed for doing women's work. Best of luck to that prolific family minister!

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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