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Protect job, defuse demographic time bomb – have babies!
Then make the most of Germany’s generous parental benefits and job protection for parents on baby leave, and take time off to procreate. That’s at least the message coming from a leading economist in Germany, who is urging the government to do even more for young families, and echoing loudly in the German media.
It may seem counterintuitive — traditionally, birth rates are seen falling during downturns, as people fear for their jobs, worry about a fall in income and seek to reduce costs — but some politicians and researchers say using the recession to have children could be advantageous for all: individuals, companies and the future economy.
Not only does parental leave help avoid being discharged, but you might also be doing your small part to defuse a demographic and economic time bomb, as low birth rates mean average ages are creeping up and putting pressure on the pension, health and welfare system.
And your temporary absence may be good for companies too, many of which are implementing shorter working hours to keep on qualified staff while adjusting to the current slide in demand.
“In times of a crisis, people always say you should build up human capital,” says Ulrich Blum, president of Germany’s IWH economic research institute in Halle. “But human capital doesn’t only mean further education, it also means that you should use the crisis to fulfil your desire for children.”
Some studies show the German population could dip below 70 million by 2050 from about 82 million.
“Seeing as we know that the crisis mostly affects young people, then we should turn this stupid situation into a golden opportunity, by providing the corresponding legal incentives,” he said.
The German government has introduced many parental benefits in recent years to encourage working couples to have children, and in 2007 the birth rate rose for the first time in a decade to 1.37 children per woman. But experts have argued the economic crisis could halt the rising birth rate, as people worry about their livelihoods and seek to reduce costs, and have urged the government to do more. The annual number of births fell by around 10,000 babies to 675,187 in 2008, government data shows.
Germany’s Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who has seven children of her own, this month said she was seeking to change parental leave benefits so that young parents can still cash in on them while working part-time. “Precisely in the economic crisis, better options for the combination of parental money and part-time work create more flexibility and security for families,” she said. “Such a system would allow companies to draw on qualified employees, even if the volume of orders drops,” she said.
However, the topic of population policy is a sensitive one in Germany, where Nazi methods to encourage women to have children in order to bolster Hitler’s future armies still weigh on the collective consciousness.
Blum’s comments have drawn some criticism from people who think that by encouraging women to take time off, the government would be confining them to their traditional role of raising children, and considering babies as economic pawns rather than human beings.
“So now we should have children. Because a few men in fancy suits and even fancier offices in their fancy banks overshot themselves and miscalculated slightly – no, thank you,” writes the online magazine frauenzimmer.de. “Our economy desperately needs qualified workers and people to pay into the pension scheme. But you don’t have children because of that, you have children out of love.”
(PHOTO: Germany’s Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen poses with children during her visit at the ‘Lelka Birnbaum Kindergarten’ at the St. Pauli district in Hamburg February 11, 2008. REUTERS/Christian Charisius)