A parental leave scheme introduced at the beginning of the year has been hugely popular among fathers as well as mothers, Germany's family affairs minister said. But the success comes with a price tag.
A survey said 34 percent of fathers might take paternity leave -- 10 percent have
Between Jan. 1, when benefits for stay-at-home parents were increased, and the end of September, 394,000 people registered for the program, Family Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters on Friday, Dec. 14.
The measures allow one parent to take up a year of leave from work after the birth of a child while receiving two-thirds of their net pay from the state. Benefits are extended to a maximum of 14 months if both parents take at least two months leave.
Von der Leyen said the policy, which caps benefits at 1,800 euros ($2,600) per month, came at the same time the Federal Statistics Office announced the first increase in recorded births in Germany in a decade.
Numbers could increase
Most recipients have one child
"I know this is just a beginning but I hope it will lead to a stable trend," she said. "You see in these figures that younger people have begun to have some faith in the government but also in society and the business community that they can reliably plan a future with children."
She said incentives for men to take a few months of paternity leave had proven attractive to new fathers, with 9.6 percent taking advantage of the policy -- more than experts had forecast.
Parents have to file for leave with their employers seven weeks ahead of their date of departure, leaving open the possibility that some parents intend to take part in the scheme but have not yet filed their petition to do so.
"Three-quarters of those fathers were working before the birth of their child," she said, hailing the "great support" the business community had offered to men who take time off to care for their children.
Added funding next year
Interest among fathers caused the progam to run overbudget, von der Leyen said
She said surveys showed that 34 percent of men who became fathers in 2007 said they were interested in taking parental leave. Half of the recipients are under 30 and 56 percent have one child.
Parents' response to the measures meant that the program's budget of 3.5 billion euros has been overdrawn by 130 million euros.
"Fathers blew the budget for 2007," von der Leyen said, adding that she was calling for the budget to increase to 4 billion euros. "I think it's the best thing that could have happened to our country."
The family ministry said the new law exceeded its forecasted budget because men tend to earn more than their partners and it was more expensive for the state if they chose to stay at home with their children.