Women Face an Unfair Choice: Career or Children


Reader Response to “Don’t Marry Career Women” – Women Face an Unfair Choice: Career or Children

Women Face an Unfair Choice: Career or Children
khankrumthebulg
Regular Contributor
khankrumthebulg
Germany’s Failed Emancipation

Reconciling motherhood with a career is not a new dilemma. But research suggests that women in Germany have a particularly hard time straddling the divide between a career and being a good mother.

Anke Jentzen didn’t want to become one of these “incredibly uncool mothers” whose mental horizon extends about as far as the next playground. Instead she got a degree in marketing and quickly worked her way up the ranks of a renowned Hamburg advertising agency. By the age of 30, she had already been promoted to a management position — she had plenty of responsibility and the dream job.

She often worked until late into the night, received a big paycheck — and soon got sick and tired of it all. “I put 100 percent of my energy into the job, but I knew all the time that it wasn’t the life for me. It’s like with guys: been there, done that.”

The turning point was the birth of Jentzen’s child. She looked forward to it and was secretly glad to be “relieved from the responsibility that came with my job.” She never talked to her husband about how their future life together might look like. “The child wasn’t planned, but there was no great fuss when we found out I was pregnant. It was clear from the start that I wanted to have this child.” Now Jentzen has two daughters, and she’s working in an advertising agency again — on a part-time basis, earning €400 ($504) a month.

In Germany, the birth of their first child almost inevitably forces young couples back into the lifestyle of their parents, with dad working outside the house and mom in the kitchen. That’s the typical division of labor in most German households with children under the age of six.

The everyday life of many mothers across the country is little different from that of the 1950s. If the similarity isn’t immediately obvious, that’s because the children are now sitting in state-of-the-art baby carriages and the mothers are carrying iPods on their belts. Many of these mothers worked as lecturers or economic advisors before they took to the playground. Many of them hold university degrees and earned handsome salaries. And many of them wanted to continue their careers after a few years of childraising.

In other words, the last decades have seen a change in the self-conception of mothers, but not in social reality. Only six percent of German mothers say that want to be stay-at-home moms for the first six years of their childrens’ lives, but in reality this is the case for more than half. And more than 60 percent never return to work after taking parental leave — even though they had announced their intention to do so. Only 20 percent of mothers do the same work three years after the birth of their child that they did before. Most get by with part-time work that offers no career prospects whatsoever, or they work in low-paying part-time jobs. Germany has the largest number of female part-time workers in Europe.

Sure, female emancipation seems to have become a reality now in Germany. In Angela Merkel, the country has a female chancellor. And the federal family minister, Ursula von der Leyen, wants fathers to take as much time off work to raise children as mothers. Yet looks can be deceiving: the truth is that female emancipation never quite got off the ground in Germany.

Newsweek recently came to the conclusion that sexual equality is nothing but a “myth” in Germany — Angela Merkel’s chancellorship notwithstanding — and that the country’s society is neglecting the potential of its female workforce (in contrast to the US), smothering that potential in well-intentioned but ultimately unhelpful social welfare measures. In effect, the magazine argued, measures such as the right to extended parental leave and associated benefits are effectively inviting women to leave the job market and return to the kitchen.

Graphic: Europe by Numbers (Reprinted with the permission of the Guardian.)
Source: The Guardian

Graphic: Europe by Numbers (Reprinted with the permission of the Guardian.)
In fact, they’re punished for not doing so. The tax system works in such a way that not much is left of a woman’s second income if she returns to the labor market. Unlike those of France and other European countries, the German system allows only very limited tax deductions for childcare or domestic services. Changing this system would be a way of creating jobs and giving qualified mothers the chance of pursuing a career. A chronic lack of daycare puts further pressure on mothers. Add to this the new national past-time of accusing working women of being bad mothers who spend too little time with their kids by disparagingly referring to them as “Rabenmütter.” According to economic expert Bert Rürup, when women are faced with a choice between motherhood and a career, “one of these two wishes tends to remain unfulfilled.”

Raising children is a job reserved for women in Germany. According to the Bamberg Institute for Family Studies, only 20 percent of German fathers are prepared to participate significantly in the raising of their children; not even five percent of them go on parental leave.

What sociologist Ulrich Beck said years ago still holds true for the overwhelming majority of men: “Open-minded statements co-exist with a refusal to change their behavior.” They act modern, and many of them probably think in a modern way — but they insist on living like their own fathers, thereby forcing women to live like their mothers.

Disastrous consequences

The failure of female emancipation is not just a problem for women; it has disastrous consequences for the entire nation: the median age of the population is on the rise and the birth rate is declining dramatically. The per capita birth rate has sunk to 1.36 children. Academics are especially inclined to opt against motherhood — partly because raising the child would be a task left almost entirely to them.

The country’s demographic shift will probably transform it more lastingly than any other contemporary development. If the current trend were to continue, the pension and welfare system would break down. “We have to get more women onto the job market,” says Vladimir Spidla, the EU Commissioner for Labor and Social Issues. Nations that fail to achieve this goal face financial collapse. True, most EU states are struggling with high unemployment. At the same time, however, there is a lack of qualified workers in many branches of the economy.

Reiner Klingholz, the director of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, lists new social ideals and a new division of labor as the two “most important prerequisites for raising the birth rate in Germany.” According to Klingholz, the problem is “not modernity, but traditionalism with regard to gender roles.”

A rule of thumb emerges from several studies produced by the Berlin institute: The more women are active on a country’s labor market, the more children are born in that country. Iceland is a key example. The island nation has the highest birth rate in Europe — an average of two children per woman — and it also has the highest presence of women on the labor market (almost 90 percent). Norway and Sweden are close contenders. Germany, on the other hand, ranks on the lower half of the list.

That’s why it is nonsense to increase parental benefits, argues Klingholz. These benefits are already the second-highest in Europe. Giving people money doesn’t make them have children. Countries that have recently succeeded in raising their birth rate, such as Sweden, are not using monetary incentives to achieve this. Instead, they invest in an infrastructure that allows women to have children while continuing to pursue careers.

In Germany, on the other hand, women are made to stay home at every cost. The failure of emancipation is the “number one topic in our society,” says Professor Wassilios Fthenakis, the German government’s advisor on family policy. If the Germans don’t finally succeed in leaving the 1950s behind, they will suffer “an erosion process with high individual and social costs,” he says.

There is another reason why the German birth rate is so low, however: men are increasingly refusing to become fathers. Nowadays, they’re supposed to be not just providers, but also nannies and lovers — all at the same time, ideally. They’re supposed to share everything and not obstruct the career paths of their wives. It’s a bit much for many of them, and men are opting to remain childless in record numbers.

Those who do choose to have a family often run into difficulties very quickly. Roughly a third of all German marriages break up, and the number is rising. Many couples fall back into traditional gender roles when their first child is born. And many marriages don’t survive the tension between a modern world view and the reality of the 1950s.

Graphic: Sharing responsibilities
DER SPIEGEL

Graphic: Sharing responsibilities

Germany’s various governments have contributed to this miserable state of affairs for decades — no matter which party happened to be in power. There is hardly any other country in Europe that promotes traditional gender roles as strongly as Germany.

The German state shells out no less than €20 billion ($25 billion) a year for the current tax system that allows married couples to reduce their overall taxable income by filing two returns instead of one. This often discourages women from pursuing a career since the income amount would not increase proportionately to the taxes paid. In fact, more than a third of the married couples who benefit from this system don’t even have any children. In France, by comparison, the system takes into consideration the number of children that a couple has. What is more, the EU has repeatedly chided Germany for maintaining a tax system that puts women at a disadvantage, pointing out that the majority of people who find themselves in “Tax Class 5,” where taxes are especially high, are women.

“It’s frustrating,” says Andrea Dahm, a former banker. She’s married to a surgeon and has two children. She wants to start working her old job again: “My kindergarten fees are higher than those of other people, and I’m in the worst tax bracket — in the end, all I get to keep from my income is a little pocket money.” But she says she prefers earning a little bit of money for herself rather than getting a handout from her husband.

In this way, the tax system creates the wrong incentives. The only way to combat the family poverty effectively, a study conducted by the Hans Böckler Foundation concludes, is to make sure both parents work. As independent researcher Ulrike Spangenberg says: “The tax system is legally dubious, useless with regard to family policy and detrimental with regard to gender equality.”

Women with top positions would certainly be happy if they could hire nannies and housekeepers. After all, a woman who is constantly rushing from her desk to the playground can’t really be expected to clean the toilet, do laundrywork and bake birthday cakes as well. At present, barely 110,000 German households hire domestic help legally. Doing so is too expensive for anyone but the richest. That there is a demand for this kind of work can be seen from the amount of off-the-books work that is performed in this sector. Someone is employed illegally or off the books in about 3 million German households — usually a cleaning lady.

That’s why Silke Lautenschläger — the Christian Democratic Minister for Social Issues in the region of Hessen — has long demanded that households be allowed to deduct all expenses for nannies, babysitters and housekeepers from their taxes. “It makes sense both in terms of family policy and with regard to the labor market,” she says, adding that it is a matter of recognizing households as employers and treating them adequately. “We want to support the private household in its role as an employer.” She says Germany is far behind other countries with regard to this issue.

France has already introduced such measures. The cost of domestic workers that take care of children can be partly deducted from taxes. Subsidies and compensation payments have also been introduced.

In Germany, parents can now claim tax benefits of up to €4,000 ($5,033) per child a year for costs related to childraising. But only a fraction of the costs for domestic help can be deducted — far too little to create a genuine incentive.

There are many other ways in which the German state is anything but neutral with regard to women and families. It’s a clear example of a conservative welfare state that “seeks to consolidate the nuclear family,” according to researcher Hans-Peter Blossfeld.

Things look quite different in Scandinavia, where states have made gender equality one of their top priorities. They pay fewer family benefits, but they provide good childcare — and women are flocking onto the job market.

Germany’s last federal government, in power for seven years und Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, never seriously tried to change things. True, it introduced gay marriage, but it has failed to develop a modern family policy. Debates about abstract issues such as gender mainstreaming and anti-discrimination legislation are ongoing in parliament, but the actual needs of families are not being taken into consideration.

“Gender equality has progressed farther in people’s minds than it has in reality,” says Blossfeld. And if someone suffers from this contradiction, “then their suffering is considered an individual problem,” adds Frankfurt sociologist Ute Gerhard.

And yet the causes of the problem are anything but individual — even when it is a question of the most personal issues. Take the example of finding a partner: men with a good education and a high income stand a better chance of marrying and having children. Women are looking for a provider, and men for a female mate. Many of these mates choose the respected option of motherhood when the breeze on the upper rungs of the career ladder gets a little too chilly.

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Even public education isn’t free of these archaic patterns of behavior. While more women than men finish high school in Germany these days, and while 49 percent of university degrees went to women in 2004, many women continue to select their study subjects as if it were a matter of entertaining their husbands with educated chit-chat. Most women opt for subjects such as literature. “In selecting their courses, women are more oriented towards self-fulfilment and the luxury of pursuing interests for which there is no great demand on the job market,” says Cornelia Koppetsch, a sociologist at Berlin’s Humboldt University. “They know they may have to support themselves, but not an entire family.”

Or they choose jobs compatible with having a family. More than 70 percent of all people training to be teachers are women. “It’s truly astonishing,” says Blossfeld. “The degree of qualification has become similar between men and women, but the split between ‘male’ and ‘female’ professions has become more pronounced.”

It seems women are terrified of tough jobs; less than ten percent opt for subjects such as engineering or electronics, even though these subjects offer excellent career prospects. Even Turkey has more female students of technical subjects to show than Germany.

“Eighty percent of leadership positions are assumed by graduates with degrees in business, engineering or one of the natural sciences,” says Sonja Bischoff, a professor of Business Studies in Hamburg, “but only 25 percent of these graduates are women.”

Why? Because nasty men won’t let women take their share of the cake? Hardly. After all, there are engineering courses specially tailored for women, and Germany’s federal government spends €3 million ($3.8 million) every year trying to make technological subjects appealing to young women. Sociologist Doris Janshen, director of the College for Gender Studies in Essen, set out to interest female students in engineering 30 years ago — “with shockingly little success,” she concedes.

It seems the mechanisms that work to exclude women from certain fields are subtle. Graduates of women-only boarding schools behave entirely differently. Such graduates make up only three percent of female students — but they also make up the majority of women studying technical subjects at university.

Perhaps these young women simply don’t realize that female technicians are frequently viewed with skepticism. “Catherine Lechardoy confirms all my fears from the start. She’s 25, and she has a technical diploma in computer science and bad teeth.” That’s how novelist Michel Houllebecq describes the cliché of the female engineer in his 1994 novel “Whatever.” “Apart from her bad teeth she has dull-colored hair and eyes that sparkle angrily.” But most, it seems, would prefer Ally McBeal’s motto: “Women can change the world. But first I want to marry.”

“Successful mothers often tell me their daughters don’t want to have anything to do with their work,” complains Elke Holst of the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin, “they just want a husband.”

Twenty-three-year-old Sophia, the daughter of a successful journalist from the south of Germany, is a case in point. Sophia is a student of law and languages in Passau. Her grades are excellent. After several internships, she’s offered a position by a major Munich law firm. Sophia rejects the offer. She’s not willing to work a 60-hour week. “I want a family and children — and I want to have time for my children,” she says. So she’s going to start by working either in a smaller law firm or for the government, where overtime is unheard of.

Sophia’s boyfriend is a little older than her and he’s also a law student. He’s the one who will make the money later on. That’s what they’ve agreed, even if Sophia sometimes points out that she has the better grades. Can they imagine a different distribution of roles? “Not really,” Sophia says, “even if he mentions it sometimes. But he’s no good at cooking or housework.” She already likes to interrupt her study sessions in order to cook for him when he comes home from university. “That’s how we women are,” she tells her astounded mother.

One thing is clear: Young women like Sophia don’t feel discriminated against in any way. Lecturer Doris Janshen says her students consider feminism uncool. “They say: ‘I’m not some kind of feminist nut — I want you to know that straight away.'” Berlin sociologist Koppetsch adds: “Insisting on equality is no longer considered legitimate. No one wants to draw attention to the fact that they are being discriminated against.”

Reported by SPIEGEL editors Andrea Brandt, Steffen Kraft, Cordula Meyer and Conny Neumann.

From Der Spiegel

09-23-2006 05:07 PM

Re: Women Face an Unfair Choice: Career or Children
Halladay
Regular Contributor
Halladay

i’m getting to the point i don’t give a “BLEEP” if they change their minds and now want kids.  if they are in their mid 30’s , then to me that’s too late.  once they reach 32 or so, they don’t seem as attractive to me.

they’ve chosen their bed, now they can lay in it and stay there.

09-23-2006 05:16 PM

Re: Women Face an Unfair Choice: Career or Children
Mamonaku
Regular Contributor
Mamonaku
Men and women have equal worth before God, but they aren’t built the same. If the vast majority of women prefer the arts instead of the sciences, more power to them.

It would be more efficient in an economic sense for women to take care of things at home, instead of them being forced to work until they die.

Men everywhere are refusing to be a part of this unnatural system. Let it all come down.

It’s quite clear that Feminism, going against the laws of God and man, is on its way out. And good riddance to bad rubbish!

09-23-2006 07:19 PM

Re: Women Face an Unfair Choice: Career or Children
Cassius
Regular Contributor
Cassius
I live in Germany women here have the possibility to give their children in daycare as well. A lot of women just prefer to stay home. In Germany is oftentimes a dense atmosphere at the working place, coupled with a pretty strict routine which allows only little derailing from it. Letting the work be work and pick up in the middle of the day to spend 1 or 2 hours at starbucks is unheard of here. I assume a lot of women feel more “opressed” at work than at home. Beeing a work does not feel good to them. Its kinda similiar like in Italy with politics. During the cold war era, with comunist partecipating in the democratic process, politics in Italy was more about fundamentals. Its kinda like goebbels and sharon forming a goverment in regular intervalls the situation exloded to namecalling culminating into a royal rumbel. To make a long story short part of that era sticked in the political life of Italy. Beeing in the political world in Italy just does not feel good to the women, while they feel better in a working enviroment there.

09-23-2006 09:40 PM

Re: Women Face an Unfair Choice: Career or Children
MartianBachelor
Regular Contributor
MartianBachelor
“…the truth is that female emancipation never quite got off the ground in Germany.”

I love this phrase because it’s so all-purpose. I couldn’t figure out if “emancipation” here meant freedom from work, or freedom from staying at home. It’s like whatever a woman chooses she isn’t “emancipated” because she didn’t do the other thing. What a racket. It’s a perfect Orwellian Catch-22 where the freedom of choice equals slavery.

If women wanted the equality to be like men, why wouldn’t they recognize that men never had the freedom to not work? Or, rather, that a lot of the work was directed at making enough money so that one could be financially independent and therefore free from work.

Once again, it seems like the best thing to do to avoid all this conflict women have between kids and career is to do the one first and then do the other later. Lifetimes are long enough that this is entirely feasible now. The only hitch is that it means marrying off women in their late teens to 30+ year old men who can support them; but at the other end of the life cycle the 50+ year old woman, who’s then at about the top of her career, can support the guy since by then he’ll be ready for retirement. What a neat, equal, and simple system.

“It seems women are terrified of tough jobs…”

Ya think?!

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that women are privileged and exempt from all the hard work — at least until men take control and make `em do all the rough stuff like slaves. (Just kidding…) Maybe with the system outlined above women won’t be such wimps when they get back on the career track sometime in their early or mid thirties, because by then they will have survived raising young kids.

“…there are engineering courses specially tailored for women, and Germany’s federal government spends €3 million ($3.8 million) every year trying to make technological subjects appealing to young women. Sociologist Doris Janshen, director of the College for Gender Studies in Essen, set out to interest female students in engineering 30 years ago — “with shockingly little success,” she concedes.”

Larry Summers and “friends”, are you all listening?

______________________________________________
“The loudest, most strident voices calling women weak, stupid, and incapable of competing in the world at large are the feminists.” – zed the zen priest

09-23-2006 11:15 PM

Re: Women Face an Unfair Choice: Career or Children
Cassius
Regular Contributor
Cassius
I do not think the situation is that more different in America. The only real difference is, that if you had a time of unemployment, hardship, or were on a part time job for a while, reentering the job market at a good position is far more difficult in Germany than in America, male or female.

09-24-2006 07:42 AM

Re: Women Face an Unfair Choice: Career or Children
MartianBachelor
Regular Contributor
MartianBachelor
“I do not think the situation is that more different in America.”

Oh no, not at all. All the demographic data and sociological reports show about the same thing is happening all over the Western industrialized world. That’s why articles like this are relevant, whether they come from Germany, the UK, Canada, France, Australia, or wherever.

Asia is different, and there are no doubt individual peculiarities specific to one country or another, but they tend to be nuances on the bigger picture: everyone’s got declining marriage and birth rates, increasing age at first marriage, historically high divorce rates, high teen and out-of-marriage birth rates, bad TV, and way too much feminism.

“…reentering the job market at a good position is far more difficult in Germany than in America, male or female.”

I’d hate to know how that could be possible – one of my neighbors (male) stupidly quit his 10+ year job at the semiconductor chip factory for no real reason other than he didn’t like and was having increasing problems with his boss; it’s now 21 months later and he still hasn’t found anything. I’ve heard the same kind of story for years, through economies both good and bad. It can be very rough over here too.

______________________________________________
“The loudest, most strident voices calling women weak, stupid, and incapable of competing in the world at large are the feminists.” – zed the zen priest

09-24-2006 02:58 PM

Re: Women Face an Unfair Choice: Career or Children
juliandroms
Regular Contributor
juliandroms
Of course women have a choice. In fact, they have the same choice men do: marry a guy who doesn’t have a job.

09-24-2006 08:18 PM

Re: Women Face an Unfair Choice: Career or Children
Cassius
Regular Contributor
Cassius
Not gonna happen, I already tried that out, by saying they should avoid non career men. Obviously they did not get it and replyed with jibberish. Ill try your more in the face way of putting it, maybe itll finally stick.

09-24-2006 08:27 PM

Re: Women Face an Unfair Choice: Career or Children
barbara
Regular Visitor
barbara

I traveled the county interviewing (getting into the minds and spirits of) 527 men for my book 527 NAKED MEN & ONE WOMAN The Adventures of a Love Investigator.  When promised anonymity, the men poured out their deepest – darkest.  Most men insisted women have a career.  Please see my website for a sample : http://www.527nakedmen.com

I discovered incredible anger for stay-at-home moms.  It was enlightening and disheartening. Men were thankful their mothers stayed home to raise them, and yet resented wives who chose home over career.

There were lots of other startling responses: 97% of the men would NOT die for the woman they loved…and more and more.

Thank you,
Barbara Silkstone
Barbaras0303@yahoo.com

09-25-2006 08:40 AM

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Reader Response to “Don’t Marry Career Women” – Women Face an Unfair Choice: Career or Children

Re: Women Face an Unfair Choice: Career or Children
MartianBachelor
Regular Contributor
MartianBachelor
“Most men insisted women have a career.”

Which is exactly why Noer’s article, and more like it, is so badly needed — to de-program men who have been brainwashed by forty years of feminism.

______________________________________________
“The loudest, most strident voices calling women weak, stupid, and incapable of competing in the world at large are the feminists.” – zed the zen priest

09-25-2006 10:34 AM

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