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Kinder, kuche... Germany's lowest birthrate yet blamed on dated policy

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Connolly, Kate
Publication Date: 
19 May 2010

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Germany's birthrate has slumped to its lowest level ever, dipping below
the number born at the end of the war when many citizens were
undernourished and poverty was rife.

The figures released by the Federal Statistics Office have prompted
concern over whether Germany is doing enough to support families.

Last year 651,000 babies were born in Germany, 30,000 less than
the previous year. With only 8.2 children being born for every 1,000
citizens (compared with 9.3 in 2000), and with 10 in 1,000 citizens
dying every year, Germany is nowhere near approaching a replacement rate
that would keep the population stable.

"Germany is Shrinking!" read the headline in the Tagesspiegel
newspaper when the statistics were released this week, prompting alarmed

Apart from a minimal spike in the birthrate in 2007, following
the introduction of a parental benefits system for mothers and fathers,
the number of births has more or less been constantly dropping since the

On a European scale, Germany has the lowest birthrate, and on a
global scale it is almost as bad. Of 27 countries with populations in
excess of 40 million, Germany ranks second from bottom in terms of
children under 15 as a percentage of the overall population. Japan is
bottom with 13%, followed by Germany with 13.6%, and Italy with 14%. At
45%, Ethiopia has the highest portion of youth population.

Politicians have long been forced to improve the birthrate or
face the problem of Germany having insufficient workers and taxpayers to
support a population which, like much of Europe, is ageing faster than
at any time in history.

The statistics have disappointed many observers who thought that
the government policy to support the family, which includes more than
150bn a year pumped into family benefits, child welfare payments and
parental wage compensation, would have had a positive effect on the

The family minister, Kerstin Schroder, said today the reason for
the failure to boost numbers was the drop in the numbers of women of
child-bearing age. "The birthrate is so low because there are fewer and
fewer women," she said.

However, she also admitted that having children "required having a
lot of courage" and that at a time of the deepest economic crisis since
the war many Germans felt "fearful and full of angst about their jobs,
and for that reason decide against having a child".

Another explanation she suggested was that "some women simply
fail to find the right husband".

But experts say that Germany has ignored the problem for too
long, erroneously adopting the adage of the post-war chancellor Konrad
Adenauer, who famously said: "People will always have children,

According to Katya Tichomirowa, a specialist in family policy,
France and Scandinavia, which have higher birthrates, contradicted the
idea that a low rate was natural in industrialised societies. She blamed
instead a systematic failure to see each in a couple as equal.

"Nowhere in Europe is the tax system geared so much in favour of
the family model of single-breadwinning father and stay-at-home wife as
it is [in Germany] ... the state should be supporting the career
development of both parents, enabling both to take part in child care,"
she wrote in the Berliner Zeitung.

But the issue remains particularly sensitive in a country which
turned child-bearing into an act of patriotism during the Nazi era, with
women urged to concentrate on Kinder, Kuche, Kirche, - children,
kitchen and church - and awarded medals based on how many children they

"There are still many who support this ideal of 'children,
kitchen and church', which certainly puts some women off," said Silke
Schmidt, a 39-year-old academic living in Berlin. But she admitted that
many of the props that would help families have children in a modern
world were pitifully lacking. "Often schools finish so early it's
impossible to get a part-time job, employers are regularly unsympathetic
towards mothers, and childcare facilities are poor," she said.

But neither is the phenomenon of Rabenmütter particularly
helpful: "raven mothers" is the derogatory term for women who combine
work and family.

The fears over Germany's demographic woes have only deepened
following recent warnings that large budget cuts are imminent in order
to balance the budget.

Roland Koch, prime minister of the state of Hesse and a member of
Angela Merkel's government, is leading conservative calls for a cut in
family spending, including scrapping the guarantee of childcare
facilities for children under the age of three, which experts say would
quash any chance of raising the birthrate.

- reprinted from the