This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Why is Germany's Birth Rate so Low?

Germany's birth rate has been below replacement level since the early 1970s, according to data from UN demographers. There have been many lamentations about this fact in Germany, but until just about this year there were enough women of childbearing age--enhanced by immigration, especially from Turkey--having children that the population did not decline. It is threat of population decline, along with the not-so-popular solution of letting in more immigrants, that is one of the forces behind the right-wing populist movement in that country. So, I was very surprised by an article in OZY yesterday discussing results from a YouGov poll suggesting a high level of regret among Germans about becoming parents.
YouGov undertook what’s believed to be the first quantitative “parenthood regret” survey earlier this year, quizzing 1,228 parents — 671 women and 557 men. It found that a whopping 19 percent of mothers and 20 percent of fathers regret having children. They love their offspring but, if given the choice, would steer clear of parenthood a second time around.
The reasons surrounding this regret, at least for women, have to do with the lack of accommodation in German society for combining parenthood and a career. 
Young German women often struggle to find permanent employment following their studies, says Geissler, and the country’s generous maternity leave — three years with one’s post reserved — is available only to those who have such job stability. There also are limited options for working part-time as a professional. Nele Dagefoerde, a business-degree-toting mother of four in Esslingen, just outside Stuttgart, says that as long as companies and society fail to provide convincing models for moms to return to work part-time, and make it easier for men to do the same, it will always be difficult to have both a career and a family. “As long as women still have to make a choice whether to go for a career or to become a mother, there will be moms who regret motherhood,” she says.
There also appear to be limits to child-care combined with schools that end at mid-day that are oriented around a more traditional world of non-working mothers. Reading between the lines, you can see that Germany (like Japan, as well, as I've noted before) cannot reconcile itself to a world in which women are encouraged to become educated and employed in the paid labor force, and yet they are also expected to be full-time mothers. Women are essentially forced to choose and a lot of them decide to forego children as a consequence. Germans have known about this for several decades, yet have clearly done very little about it.

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