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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Family Policy in Germany. Today's New York Times Week in Review has a fascinating article on family policy in Germany. The photo shows Germany's Minister for Family Affairs, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, who is a physician and mother of seven. The article notes that Dr. von der Leyen has challenged some "deeply held" prejudices in German society, "chief among them that women must choose either to work or to raise children." The article notes that
Rather than vault the hurdles and shoulder the guilt, many German women skip having children. In 2005, 42 percent of those with academic careers were childless. That is double the percentage in France, which has one of Europe's highest birthrates. Dr. von der Leyen says she now wants to combine the flexible child care of France with the financial incentives of Sweden. Her main proposal, adapted from Sweden, is to shorten parental leave support in Germany to 12 months, but tie payments — up to $2,2,00 a month — to income. Higher-income families would have more incentive to have babies, while the shorter duration would prod mothers to return to work sooner She would also require fathers to take at least two months off work, if a family is to receive the full 12 months of benefits, to pressure men to take more responsibility.
Several thoughts to my American male mind. First of all, what is the role of her husband? Is he a stay at home dad? He must be. She's a doctor, a cabinet minister and the mother of seven kids (three of whom look like pre-schoolers). Second, Germany has a Ministry of Family Affairs. What a great idea! Why don't we have one? We have a Secretary of Eduction and a Secretary for Veterans Affairs. Doesn't the family merit one? Third, I like Dr. von der Leyen's idea that the father be required to take off at least two months of work if the family is to receive the full benefit (her husband must be a SAHD). FYI, in case you've forgotten, here's what "family policy" in the good ol' USA currently consists of: 12 weeks of unpaid leave. As the article notes, France "supports an extensive network of day-care and after-school centers, many open until 6 p.m." In California, we will have a proposition on the June ballot that would provide for subsidized pre-school. Because it would include a modest tax increase on the wealthy, it is already behind in the polls. C'est la vie.

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