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The politics of parental leave policiesChildren, parenting, gender and the labour market$
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Sheila Kamerman and Peter Moss

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9781847420671

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781847420671.001.0001

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Germany: taking a Nordic turn?

Germany: taking a Nordic turn?

(p.119) Eight Germany: taking a Nordic turn?
The politics of parental leave policies

Daniel Erler

Policy Press

Compared to many European countries, German parental leave legislation has been undergoing considerable changes in recent years, culminating in the introduction of a twelve-month wage replacement benefit in 2007. When the parental leave policy was introduced in West Germany in 1986, the main goal was to enable and actively encourage mothers to stay at home and care for their children during their early years. In contrast, the income-related childrearing benefit has the explicit purpose of reducing the length of child-related periods out of the labour market and of facilitating a stronger paternal involvement in childrearing. This marks a decisive move away from Germany's traditional family policy path, which like the welfare system as a whole had been built on the assumption of a male breadwinner family model. The long-standing political focus on home care and the importance of mother-child relations has been displaced by concerns over the country's fertility rates and the increasing human value of educated women. In fact, the family policy debate of recent years has been dominated by the conundrum of how to encourage young couples to have children and how to reduce the opportunity costs of childbearing for mothers. Within a broader context of family policy change and the attention to the expansion of childcare services, the recent parental leave reform thus seems to be a clear sign of a paradigmatic shift in German family policy. This chapter addresses why and how such a paradigmatic policy shift has come about. At first glance, it may be tempting to see the current changes as a rational political reaction to mounting socio-economic pressures, but such rational explanation faces difficulties in explaining the timing of the current adaptations. Hence, this chapter looks at the role of political ideas and the discourses that shaped the family policy changes in Germany. In the course of this chapter, it is evident that political beliefs and discourses constitute important pieces of the complex explanatory puzzle of Germany's successive parental leave reforms.

Keywords:   parental leave, Germany, mothers, children, income-related childrearing benefit, traditional family, family policy

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