In the previous article (The family barometer – Expat Care) we talked about the Family Barometer, presented in Germany in March 2023 by Federal Minister for Family Affairs Lisa Paus, and its three main fields of action. In this article, we will take a deeper look at the issue of parental leave in family policy.
Reconciling family and career
In recent decades, family patterns and the desires of mothers and fathers regarding the compatibility of family and work have changed significantly. The division of duties between the partners is increasingly beginning to take hold, so that the father contributes more to family life and the mother can work more hours. In fact, especially when old age arrives for women, it becomes evident how working fewer hours to take care of the family is extremely disadvantageous as far as the pension system is concerned. For an in-depth discussion of the importance of economic independence for women, we recommend viewing the video at the following link: https://www.arte.tv/it/videos/099238-040-A/dipendenza-economica/
Division of roles within families
Generally, parents who have a division of duties based on cooperation are more satisfied with their average family life. Although a division of roles is desirable, there is often a gap between desire and reality. While 20% of fathers in Germany would like to work part-time for a longer period, only 4% of couples realize this (IfD Allensbach 2022). Maternal employment has also been on the rise in recent years. Women start working again much faster after the birth of a child and part-time work from 28 to 36 hours per week is increasing.
Although for years most parents have expressed their desire for an equal division in childcare and housework, yet the actual inequality in the distribution of care work between fathers and mothers remains unchanged. Most mothers take care of their children and, indeed, have a double pressure: they work more, but continue to bear the bulk of family tasks. In fact, after the birth of a child, parenting couples often experience (re)traditionalization, sometimes inadvertently or unintentionally, and settle into an unequal arrangement that persists throughout life, including taking care of their parents and/or older or disadvantaged relatives. This inequality is an obstacle, especially with regard to the long-term economic and health stability of mothers.
Work environment influences the division of labor in families
The division of roles within families is subject to a number of factors that influence it, among which parental leave plays an important role. Two-thirds of families in Germany in which both parents have taken parental leave report that paternity leave has helped relieve the workload culturally on mothers’ shoulders. In Germany, more than a third of families say that paternity leave has contributed to split childcare and household responsibilities more equally (IfD Allensbach 2022).
A family-friendly work environment allows for effective reconciliation of family and career. Tools such as agreements on flexible, life-stage-oriented work schedules and remote work permit to achieve this. The latter proved its importance especially in the Covid-19 period, during the closure of schools and childcare facilities. Also during this period, it became evident that the ability of families to cope was greater where parents contribute equally to family life and employers are open to dialogue with their employees and are supportive in researching and developing solutions for flexibility.
Studies have shown that during the pandemic period, fathers significantly increased family and household work, but they were also starting from a significantly lower level. It was, however, a short-term change, as recent studies conclude that the division of family care has returned to that of pre-crisis times (IfD Allensbach 2021).
Parental leave for fathers
Parental leave has established itself as a tool in family policy. It is aimed equally at fathers and mothers and promotes more active fatherhood, while also creating a margin of time in the start-up phase of the family. With the introduction of parental leave for both parents from the moment of birth, both partners can devote themselves fully to the family. Above all, the goal is to make fathers more aware of their rights and take more time for their children by taking parental leave. In addition, even stronger incentives can be provided for a sharing of responsibilities between partners, as recommended by the Expert Commission on the 9th Family Report. The Commission identifies as a possible future alternative the extension of the period of stay within the family unit for both partners, compared to the current provisions.
In the long run, balancing family and work by ensuring economic stability for both parents is also an answer to the shortage of skilled labor. As fathers increase their cooperation in the home, it will be easier for mothers to take up or increase their work activity. In this way, they will be able to use the skills they have acquired during a continuity of work, staying abreast of updates to their work, which would otherwise be penalized by a long absence. The result for mothers would be to increase their economic capacity that would be disadvantaged by the distance from the workplace. Similarly, fathers will not be the sole income-bearers within families, with the burden of being solely responsible for the family economy and thus moving away from the upbringing/family presence aspect.