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Germany, gender and job satisfaction

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Germany may be the economic powerhouse of Europe, but cultural differences between East and West reveal some deeply ingrained views relating to gender, parenthood and job satisfaction. Research by LSE PhD student Elena Mariani sheds light on this topic.

There is a word in German that does not exist in any other language – ‘Rabenmutter’. The English translation is ‘raven mother’, a highly derogatory term for mothers who work.

It’s a surprising revelation from a country led by a woman named Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2015, but Angela Merkel’s success may partly lie in the fact she has no children herself.

Elena Mariani_113x148When PhD student Elena Mariani (left) started her LSE thesis in 2013, her aim was to investigate how closely job satisfaction for women was tied to family circumstances. Three years later, her research has thrown up some unusual findings.

“I chose to analyse Germany mainly because of the good quality data available, but also thought it would be interesting to compare mothers and childless women who had grown up in the socialist regime in East Germany with those in the West,” Elena explained.

“The gender culture in Germany is not what people expect. It is actually far more conservative than the European average and has the lowest employment rate of mothers in northern Europe.”

Elena’s research shows that, despite its economic wealth, women in Germany have only recently been fully integrated into the workforce.

“Until recent years, there were no policies which actually provided women – particularly mothers – with many incentives to work. Women were encouraged to stay at home and look after children instead.”

In recent years there has been a shift in attitudes, however, with more childcare places being made available in response to women’s needs.

Elena compared job satisfaction for mothers and childless women born before 1973, distinguishing between those who grew up in the West and East, before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“I found that women who grew up in East Germany placed equal value on motherhood and career, reflecting the expectations of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to combine both,” Elena said.

Conversely, after reunification in 1989, some West German manufacturers who opened plants in the East refused to hire women, giving preference to men in a period where unemployment was skyrocketing.

Based on the latter’s conservatism, one would expect job satisfaction among women to be lower in the West, but Elena’s research reveals the opposite.

“I found there was no difference in job satisfaction between mothers and childless women in the West, whereas in the East I found mothers were far more satisfied than women without children.

“It appears that childless women in the East prioritised their careers more than mothers and with reunification came massive unemployment, so those women were hit particularly hard. It shows how hard it is to disentangle the impact of their early socialisation.”

Until 2007, women in Germany were entitled to receive a maximum of €300 per month maternity leave for up to two years and another year unpaid. New laws which came into effect nine years ago now provide a mother  with 12 months’ leave at 67 per cent of her net salary. If fathers take up the leave as well, the maximum is 14 months.

“These reforms sound generous but it is difficult to say whether they are family friendly or not,” Elena said. “If you spend three years out of the labour market your skills will diminish a lot. Parents do have the option of going back to work after a year but childcare is still quite restrictive so that is not always possible.

“One thing was made quite clear in the course of my research: if a mother is not satisfied with her job before she has a child she is less likely to go back to work afterwards,” she said.

Elena surveyed 3000 women in the West and 1000 in the East over the course of her thesis. She is due to submit by the end of 2016.

Additional notes

Elena Mariani is a third year PhD student in Demography and Population Studies, based in LSE’s Social Policy department. She has an undergraduate degree in economics from Bocconi University, a Master in Economics from the Toulouse School of Economics, and two Masters’ degrees from LSE in Social Research Methods and European Social Policy.

Posted March 2016