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Germany

After years of family policy reforms, more Germans want kids

German politicians have worried for years about the country's low birth rate. But a new survey has found that the desire to have children has increased in Germany for the first time in years.

Three babies

More Germans say they're ready to take the plunge

The Familienmonitor 2010, a study commissioned by Germany's Family Ministry, found that in 2009 52 percent of Germans without children under the age of 50 did want children.

It was a dramatic jump from 2008 when just 43 percent said they wanted children, and according to Steffen de Sombre, a project manager of the study, the first such increase in years.

De Sombre told Deutsche Welle that another key finding of the study was that the people surveyed now find the hurdles to starting a family less significant than they did a year ago.

He credited the reforms pushed through by former Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats as getting the ball rolling on a more family-friendly Germany.

"The parents, or the potential parents, have the feeling that they're getting more support than in the past from the politicians," he said. "That their challenges and their needs are recognized by the politicians and that concrete measures are being taken to address these issues."

Those concrete measures include increased support for daycare and a parental leave allowance for mothers and fathers of new babies. Some 73 percent of the survey respondents thought the parental leave allowance, introduced in 2007, was a good reform.

A mother and a father reading a book to their baby

According to the study, Germans now see fewer barriers to becoming parents

'A good first sign'

Michaela Kreyenfeld, the deputy head of the Laboratory of Economic and Social Demography at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, said she agrees that some of the credit for the increase can be given to von der Leyen, with some caveats.

According to Kreyenfeld, the study's sample size of just 1,814 people is quite small. "We need further research," she said, "but this is a good first sign." She also emphasized that the reforms that von der Leyen championed were actually first proposed by her predecessor, Renate Schmidt, a Social Democrat.

She said, however, that von der Leyen, "with her personality and her seven children and career" was a "fantastic person" to promote a change in thinking about families and women in Germany.

Those changes, according to both Kreyenfeld and de Sombre, include a warming up to the idea of sending young children to daycare and new desire in women to combine career and family. German women are less likely to be willing to give up having children in order to have a career, said de Sombre.

"It's becoming more and more common for women to say, 'I want both.'"

A mother with her daughter on the first day of school

More and more German women want to have a career and a family

Seeking work-life balance

Wanting both means finding a balance. That balance is something Kristina Schroeder, the family minister since late last year, is focusing on.

"The satisfaction of families depends especially on whether they are able to spend enough time with their children and other relatives," Schroeder said at the presentation of the Familienmonitor 2010 in Berlin. "Time is the key to modern family policy."

The survey found that 69 of those asked and 78 percent of the mothers and fathers asked felt that making it easier to combine family life and employment should be the priority of family policy reform.

Together with the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce, Schroeder is launching a flexible work hours initiative to meet the needs of those who aren't satisfied with the typical full-time or half-time options offered by most companies. Three quarters of those mothers surveyed said 20 hours a week of work wouldn't be enough, while 60 percent of the fathers would like to reduce their working hours.

Author: Holly Fox
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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