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Germany

Financial Incentive Gets German Dads Staying Home

According to the government, a parental leave benefit for new fathers introduced 18 months ago is helping usher in a "revolution" on the home front and even boost the birthrate. But is it really?

A father helping his child get dressed

Many fathers take two months off work, but few take more

In the first quarter of 2008, one in five applications for parental leave benefits were made by fathers, Germany's family ministry said on Wednesday, June 11.

The number of men opting for the benefit which allows them to stay at home on two-thirds of their pay for a year is five times higher than it was before the scheme was introduced 18 months ago.

Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen said the fact that 18.5 percent of fathers had signed up for the leave scheme meant that Germany was seeing a "revolution" on the home front.

A quiet revolution

A couple pushing a child in a pram

More couples are sharing the childcare

Fathers in the eastern part of the country are leading the pack, von der Leyen said -- with the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania surpassing the national average with one in four fathers of newborns applying for parental leave in the first quarter of 2008.

"It is impressive," said von der Leyen, who has seven children herself.

"We are experiencing a quiet revolution -- more and more fathers are claiming time to spend with their children."

"They no longer want to serve merely as the provider,“ she added. "They want to participate in raising their family and be part of its day-to-day life.“

Boosting the birth rate

The measure was part of efforts by German Chancellor Angela Merkel's left-right coalition government to raise the national birthrate, which is one of the lowest in Europe along with Italy and Spain.

Merkel has pinpointed the shrinking population as one of the country's most pressing problems and pledged to make it easier for parents to combine a career and having children.

The fathers' leave scheme is designed to facilitate women's return to the workplace by offering their partners an opportunity to share childcare, thereby allaying women's fears that having children will adversely affect their careers.

Germany's birthrate increased slightly to 1.4 children per woman last year, according to the family ministry, to reach its highest level in 17 years.

Meanwhile, the government announced plans on Thursday to lighten the financial burden for families by increasing their child benefits and tax breaks.

Deceptive figures

A man pushing a child in a swing

Is Germany seeing a revolution on the domestic front?

However, von der Leyen's triumphant take on the figures belies the fact that most fathers actually take only a minimal break from work.

According to the Federal Statistics Office, two thirds of men only apply for two months off, with only one in ten opting for the full 12 months available.

In contrast, 85 percent of women remain at home with their new baby for a whole year.

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