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The wage gap between German men and women is 23%, among the widest in the EU. That is partly because though women’s participation rate is above average for Europe, many of those women work part-time. The “one breadwinner model” of family life—now updated to 1½ breadwinners—remains the cultural norm in west Germany. In a 2006 survey 27% of women aged 15 to 39 in that part of the country agreed with the statement that “family life suffers when the woman has a full-time job.” In east Germany the figure was only 9%; in France 13%.
Now the government wants to make it easier for mothers to go back to work after childbirth. The grand coalition introduced “parents’ pay”, a benefit linked to the new parents’ salaries that allows either of them to take up to 12 months off. This has started to make a difference to family life. The share of fathers taking paternity leave—normally for an extra two months—has jumped from 3.5% to more than 20%; the most doting ones, surprisingly, are in conservative Bavaria, where more than a quarter of new fathers take the benefit.
By 2013 crèche places will be available for a third of children younger than three, and children over one will be entitled to a place if the parents want it. That may be difficult to achieve in practice. Local governments, which foot part of the bill for day care, are in dire financial straits. The expansion in most states remains “grossly underfunded”, says Gisela Erler, owner of Familienservice, a company that operates crèches. She reckons it will take 20 years before the promised number of decent-quality places can be provided. But what has been put in motion, she notes, is nonetheless “a huge step”.