If you want to get women into the workforce, you need to provide childcare

It’s very simple: if you want to get women into the workforce, you need to provide childcare. That’s what the evidence from Germany is showing.

A 200-Billion-Euro Waste: Why Germany Is Failing to Boost Its Birth Rate

Germany has a complicated network of allowances and taxbreaks for families with children, and it spends about €200 billion on them a year. According to the article in Spiegel (linked above), that’s about 2/3 of the federal budget. But still the birthrate is low, at just 1.39 births per woman aged 15 to 49. By comparison, the OECD average is 1.74, New Zealand’s is about 2.02, and the replacement rate is 2.1. So Germany’s rate is very low indeed, despite all the support for families and children.

The conclusion of a major study into this issue: the big problem is a lack of affordable childcare.

So let’s think about the implications for New Zealand, and in particular, the implications for National’s policies with respect to women (and men) receiving the DPB. It turns out that there are two things that really matter if you are going to be able to get people to move off the DPB and into jobs. The first is obvious: there must be jobs to be had. And the second is straightforward too. There must be affordable childcare. That means childcare centres for the littlies, and after-school and holiday care for school age children.

I wrote about this when National first mooted their policy for parents on the DPB.

National will need to look at developing some serious out-of-school care services, and paying for them. At present it can be rather hard to find out-of-school care, and state schools are not required to provide it, so parents can be left struggling. Of course, state schools are not resourced to provide out of school care, and many of them don’t have suitable spaces for it. Classrooms aren’t available – they are teachers’ working spaces, and contrary to popular belief, most, if not all, teachers are at school working before 8am each day, and there until 5pm in the evening. School halls often don’t have toilet and kitchen facilities handy, and they are often too big to be heated easily. And even then, out-of-school care programs don’t really work for teenagers, so you’re into the meth-lab problem again.

You see, here’s the critical thing about sole parents. They are, for whatever reason, sole parents. That means that they have no other back-up, they have no one else who can step up and help in an emergency. The other parent is, by definition, not there. And most times, family members aren’t available to help either. They are busy working themselves. That means that if the state is going to require sole parents to work, then the state will need to ensure that conditions are such that sole parents can work.

The evidence from Germany is very clear. The biggest factor in enabling parents, and particularly mothers, to enter paid employment, aside from the presence of enough jobs, is the availability of childcare. When the government starts making some serious moves to ensure that there is enough childcare available, then we will know that their policies with respect to beneficiaries are more than just a dogwhistle.

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3 Responses to If you want to get women into the workforce, you need to provide childcare

  1. agrajag says:

    I know a bit about this, having a German wife and having lived in Germany for 4 years – with a kid, before moving to Norway and living here with 3 kids. You’re spot on.

    Most of the German subsidies for families are subsidies that benefit families with one working adult – for example the tax-rules give a substantial tax-break to the working parent for having a non-working wife. Now they want to add another subsidy: but again – the subsidy will apply only to those couples where one adult stays at home. (in practice mostly the woman)

    In contrast, in Norway most of the family-money goes to affordable high-quality childcare for everyone who wants it, and for a long and well-paid parental-leave. (56 weeks of 80% your pay before the pregnancy)

    Germany has 1.39 births per woman in fertile age — and even less than this if you include in the statistics only those women who are themselves born in Germany. (first-generation immigrants have substantially more children and pull the statistics upwards).

    In contrast, Norway has about 1.9 children pro fertile woman. This is aproximately replacement-level given that average life-expectancy is rising. Furthermore fertility-rates have been rising over the last 30 years. Basically fertility in Norway is at the level that’s considered desirable. (ofcourse exactly what number is best is a political question, but few think 1.3 is a reasonable number)

  2. Pingback: The 58th Down Under Feminists Carnival! | wom*news

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