New Year Babies Bring Extra Prosperity in Germany | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 02.01.2007
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Germany

New Year Babies Bring Extra Prosperity in Germany

Worried about a low birth rate, the German government has begun a generous new childcare benefit program to encourage working couples to have children.

Germans will celebrate the birth of their babies as well as their growing bank balances

Germans will celebrate the birth of their babies as well as their growing bank balances

Babies born on and after New Year's Day in Germany brought their parents added prosperity, thanks to a change in welfare laws that abruptly raised public subsidies to families by up to 25,200 euros ($33,100).

The move is a reaction to growing concerns about Germany's falling birth rate, which hit a post-war low in 2005, and shrinking population. Under the scheme, parents will receive up to 1,800 euros a month per child to take off work to care for newborns.

Mothers who gave birth before midnight on New Year's Eve missed out. The benefit only applies to births after January 1, 2007.

"Of course some parents did hope that their children would arrive a little later," said senior doctor Volker Thaele of Halle University Hospital's maternity department.

One such mother, Gabriele Meyer, took magnesium and homeopathic medicine to delay the birth of her twins, she told Reuters TV.

"It means 20,000 euros to me," she said.

However, doctors said that 41-year-old Meyer's twin foetuses were too small and scheduled her for a Caesarean section on Friday, just days before the new government benefits took effect. The twins were initially due on Jan. 22.

Helping families

Under the scheme, parents who take time off from work to take care of their babies, can receive two-thirds of their net salary -- up to 18,000 euros for 12 months. If the other parent also takes leave, the benefit can extend to 14 months.

"It should send a clear signal that our society wants to try to compensate for some of the financial loss young parents face," German Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen told the online edition of daily Tagesspiegel.

Given the attractive financial incentives, German media has been full of stories in recent weeks about heavily-pregnant women anxiously seeking medical advice on how to delay births until the new year so that they could qualify for the aid.

Physicians and midwives have been saying that avoiding red wine, stress as well as physical or sexual activity are among the recommended natural methods to help prevent inducing birth.

Mit sieben Kindern zur Ministerin

Ursula von der Leyen has seven children of her own

None of the advice seemed to have worked in Halle, a mid-sized city in eastern Germany, where no babies at all were delivered on new year's day, whereas six had been delivered in the preceding 48 hours.

A bit disappointed

The complexities of the new tax and welfare rules mean that the main beneficiaries are high-earning professional women in the top tax bracket who received no subsidies in the past. Non-working wives were better off under the old rules.

Susanne Gürtler, 28, was among the last mothers to give birth in 2006. Son Flynn, was born at 5 a.m. Sunday. But Gürtler does not work "so it's great for us," she said.

Halle's last baby came at 6.20 p.m. on Sunday.

"That mother would have done very well out of the new rules, and I think she was a bit disappointed," said Thale.

Some even called for the government to adopt a bit more of the holiday spirit.

"It would be an act in the spirit of Christmas to move the date from Jan. 1 to Dec. 24," Berlin bishop Wolfgang Huber told Berliner Morgenpost.

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