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German women face large equality gap in child care: study

February 23, 2022

Over 60% of German working mothers were employed part-time, according to a new study, as women bear the bulk of child care responsibilities. Researchers say the trend is a significant factor in the gender pay gap.

A woman at home working with a child next to her
Researchers highlight that progress in gender pay gap and childcare burden could be imperiled by the COVID-19 pademic Image: Julian Stratenschulte/dpa/picture alliance

German women have continued to make strides in key gender equality metrics, but a large gap remains when it comes to child care, according to a study by the Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI) at the Hans Böckler Foundation published on Wednesday.

In areas such as employment and income, women have made progress. Female labor force participation at the end of 2020 was still 7% lower than men between the ages of 15 and 64, but in 1991 that difference was 21%.

When it comes to education, German women were reaching higher levels on average than men. In 2019, some 41% of women and 39% of men in Germany had a high school diploma or qualification to enter technical college.

But although women are becoming more qualified for their professions, they are still far less likely to be in top-level jobs compared to men. In 2020, only 11% of all board-level positions at Germany's 160 largest listed companies were held by women.

The study also noted the lingering differences in earnings. The average hourly wage for women was most recently €18.62 euros per hour ($21), some €4.16 euros, or 18%, less than that of men.

Germany's wage gap has been shrinking slowly, but women on average also receive 49% lower retirement income than men, when statutory pensions, occupational and private old-age provisions are taken into account.

Children a major burden for working women

Researchers said this could be attributed to many women choosing careers in service-related or lower-paid jobs, while men tend to opt for technical or higher-paying jobs.

But the gender pay disparity is also due, in large part, to women being four times more likely to work part-time to reconcile work and family.

The study points to official figures that show that only 26.7% of couples with children in Germany worked full-time. Some 67.7% of working mothers were part-time workers, compared to 1.9% of men.

In Germany, "women continue to provide the majority of childcare," researchers wrote. They found that while 98% of mothers are currently taking parental leave benefits, only 42% of men did so this year. 

Institutional childcare supply has also reflected the trend of women scaling back on work for childcare. While institutional daycare hours have extended in Germany over the past decade, only 48% of children between the ages of three and six, and just 20% of children under one, were in full-day institutional care. 

"The existing demand for childcare hours in Germany has still not been met," researchers wrote, adding that gender equality could be furthered by an increased supply in full-time daycare for young children.

COVID-19 pandemic could make things worse

Researchers noted that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to have helped with the childcare burden. Prior to the pandemic, 62% of women were providing the majority of childcare, but that figure dropped to 53% in April 2020.

Before the pandemic, only 5% of fathers provided a majority of childcare, with the figure increasing to 13% once the pandemic got underway. 

But by June 2021, the share of women providing the majority of childcare increased to a higher level than before the pandemic to 71%, while the share of men dropped to 7%.

The pandemic has also shown that women's jobs are less secure and less crisis-proof than those of men. Researchers said women were more affected in 2020 by layoffs and shortened working hours — especially in the lower-income categories of service-sector, so-called "mini jobs" that were hit hard by the pandemic. 

jcg/fb (dpa, AFP)

Legal right to daycare