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Day care fees hit poorer families hardest — study

May 28, 2018

How much parents in Germany pay for day care varies wildly depending on where they live, a study has found. Though low-income families are impacted the most, researchers are skeptical of plans to scrap fees altogether.

Two children play with finger paint in a kindergarten in Würzburg, Germany
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Karmann

The financial burden of day care fees is unfairly distributed across Germany, with low-income families bearing the brunt, according to a study published on Monday by the Bertelsmann Foundation.

Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has said they want to get rid of the fees, researchers are unconvinced that will help fix the system's issues, and indeed make things worse.

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What the study found:

  • Parents in Germany pay between €12 to €400 ($14 to $467) per month for day care, with an average of €169.
  • Low-income families end up paying an average of 9.8 percent of their monthly income in day care fees while wealthier families pay 5.1 percent.
  • Additionally, families are asked to pay fees for meals, hygienic products and field trips regardless of their income — meaning an extra burden for low-income families as well.
  • The disparity between Germany's states was also large in terms of price and quality. Parents living in Berlin pay an average of 2 percent of their monthly income in day care fees. In the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, day care costs an average 8.9 percent of parents' monthly income.
  • Parents also said they would be willing to pay more for day care if it meant quality at the centers would increase.
  • The Bertelsmann Foundation partnered with political research institute Infratest dimap to survey 10,491 parents across Germany about day care costs for the study last fall.

Skepticism over government plans

Germany's family minister said the study's results have strengthened the government's resolve to go through with plans to gradually do away with day care fees.

"The parent's income must not decide when and if children attend a day care center. A central pillar of our 'Good Day care Act' is therefore introducing fee exemptions," Franziska Giffey said in a statement. She also noted that Berlin has allocated €3.5 billion for day cares over the next three years.

The study's researchers, however, are skeptical of the government's plans, saying the money won't be enough.

Jörg Dräger, a member of the Bertelsmann Foundation board, noted that €15.3 billion per year is needed to improve the quality of day cares around the country. If day care fees are done away with, it is likely the quality and number of personnel will suffer, the researchers concluded.

"The political promise of fee exemptions is lacking financial substance," Dräger said in a statement.

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Who is guaranteed a day care spot? In 2013, a law went into effect guaranteeing a spot in day care to children between the ages of one and three. Since then, Germany's states, cities and local municipalities have struggled at times to expand the offer of day care offerings. Kindergartens are not mandatory and are also therefore not free. School is compulsory only for children starting at age six.

The struggle for childcare in Germany: A lack of day care centers in urban areas and trained personnel to run them has sparked protests and strikes over the past few years in Germany. Cities like Berlin, Leipzig and Cologne are especially hard hit by a lack of day care spaces.

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rs/kms (dpa, epd, KNA)

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