Between motherhood and work. Challenges for ‘working moms’ in Germany

Term Paper, 2013

11 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of contents


1 The role of women – then and now

2 Common forms of work for women

3 Challenges for ‘Working moms’

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography


Nowadays, most women want both – being a mother and pursuing a career - as the “Monitor Familienforschung” by the Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend reports. A panel survey headed by Jutta Allmendinger shows that only 10 percent of the interviewed women would give up having children for their job and only 29 percent could imagine giving up on work for their children (Allmendinger, 2009, figures 8 and 9). Nevertheless, reality is not completely in compliance with these wishes and that is a challenge for family policy (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, Monitor 3). Recent debates about the establishment of a female quota on executive boards, the childcare supplement or the legal entitlement to day-care for children under the age of three show how important female employment and the reconciliation of family and working life have become on a political level (e.g. Merkel, 2013). Nevertheless traditional role models still influence the thinking of many people in Germany and mothers who work (more than part-time) are often called “uncaring” (Luci, 2011, p. 11).

The aim of this paper is to work out which challenges working mothers have to face these days. To provide a better understanding of the development of women’s role in Germany an overview about how it was defined in the past and in the present shall be given in the first part of this analysis. Following this overview, a closer look at the numbers of female employment will be taken to find out which employment relationships are relevant for women in general and for mothers in particular. Afterwards the challenges working mothers have to face due to role assignments and/or in connection with employment relationships will be portrayed. These findings will be summarised and needs for actions identified in the conclusion. It should be noted that this analysis only presents an overview and therefore, does not purport to be complete.

1 The role of women – then and now

Until approximately the 1960’s, the traditional family pattern has been dominating the German minds and judiciary. Andreia Tolciu quotes the Equal Rights Act from 1957 “Es gehört zu den Funktionen des Mannes, dass er grundsätzlich der Erhalter und Ernährer der Familie ist, während die Frau es als ihre vornehmste Aufgabe ansehen muss, das Herz der Familie zu sein“ (Tolciu, 2010, p.27) which basically states that men are supposed to be the breadwinners and women have to take care of household and children. Angela Luci points out that Jean-Jaques Rosseau’s research partly explains the German view: In Germany newborns are considered to be pure good, but the outside world has a negative influence on them (Luci, 2011, p. 13). Consequently it is the parent’s, especially mother’s, to protect them as long as possible from these influences to ensure an untainted moral development (ibid.). Following this, the concepts of life of young women were primarily family-based and married women only worked if forced to due to a low family income (Peuckert, 2012, p. 405).

But there have been a lot of changes. The educational expansion since the 1970s, which allowed women access to quality education in combination with women’s rights movements and other economic changes. The evolution in flexibility on the labour market and increasing rates of women contributing in the work force for example have contributed to a more modern view on family and work (ibid.). Gerhard Bäcker and Brigitte Stolz-Willig explain that demands for gender equality, full participation of women in the work force and social life plus the reconciliation of work and family life have grown while the traditional family pattern lost its exclusivity. Less people are getting married and the birth rate declines whereas more couples separate or file for divorce and new, atypical ways of life occur (Bäcker / Stolz-Willig, 1993, p. 415). Different from the generation of their mothers, young women, beginning in the 1980s, have a less predetermined life and have to ask themselves how dependent on a husband, if at all, they want to be (Geissler / Oechsle, 1996, p. 8).

2 Common forms of work for women

As work gained importance for women, the questions to which extend women, especially mothers, do work and what kind of employment contracts they have do occur. Referring to people between 15 and <65 figures show that the female employment rate increased from 57.7 to 66.0 percent between the years 2000 and 2010 (Bundesagentur für Arbeit, 2012, p. 6). In the same time-span the female activity rate rose from 64.0 to 70.7 percent (ibid.). These numbers show that more than 55 percent of the women aged between 15 and <65 are employed and another 15 percent (approx.)[1] are searching for work (ibid.). In comparison, the male employment rate amounts 75.9 percent and the male activity rate 82.1 percent (ibid.).

The same report indicates that employment subject to social security contributions with a 46 percentage of women is the predominating form of work in Germany (annual average 2010: 28,381,000 employees), followed by small-scale employment with a 66 percentage of women (4,894,000 employees) and self-employment respectively family workers with a 34 percentage of women (4,148,000 people) (ibid. p. 8). In addition, the percentage of women amounts 40 for civil servants (2,083,000 people) and 41 for employment opportunities (166,000) (ibid.).

A closer look at the numbers of employment shows that female employment amounts in 54 percent full-time and 46 part-time contracts whereas men work full-time in 90 percent of the cases and only in 10 percent part-time (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2012, p. 30). Additionally the report states that 55 percent of part-time working women do so due to family reasons (ibid. p. 43).

Subsequently, figures in the report of practised employment by mothers indicate that the percentage of working mothers with minors in 2010 amounted 64.5 and those of childless women 78.2 percent (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, 2012, p. 24). As it is shown, half of all working mothers work 15 to 32 hours, 29 percent more than 32 hours and 21 percent less than 15 hours per week (ibid. p. 40). In addition it is pointed out that even with children older than 15 years the percentage of full-time working mothers does not rise above 36 (ibid.). On the contrary, 68 percent of the women without children work more than 32 hours, 24 percent 15 to 32 hours and 8 percent less than 15 hours per week (ibid.). Based on the family form it is shown that single mothers usually work part- (48 percent) or full-time (40 percent), similar to these numbers mothers in non-marital partnerships work full-time in 48 percent of the cases and part-time in 43 percent (ibid. p. 53). Half of all married mothers (51 percent) work part-time, but at the same time in contrast to the numbers presented before, a quarter is either employed in small-scale-jobs (25 percent) or full-time-jobs (24 percent) (ibid.).

3 Challenges for ‘Working moms’

Even though lots of women want to have both, family and a job (see above), the view on employment of mothers is still affected by traditional attitudes and therefore discussed controversially (e.g. Scheuer / Dittmann, 2007). Mothers, working ones in particular, have to master a variety of challenges (ibid. p. 3). They are “being held accountable for the young child’s success in the market world” and “for making the work/care regime function” as Raewyn Connell points out (Connell, 2009, p. 36). In this context the report “(Keine) Lust auf Kinder?” shows that the personal view on motherhood and childcare often makes women choose between motherhood and work as it seems impossible for a mother with a clear conscience to put the responsibility for their children in somebody else’s hands (Bundesinstitut für Bevölkerungsforschung, 2012, p. 44). Additionally, fulfilling the children’s needs and the employer’s expectations at the same time is viewed as difficult which again might force women to choose between career and family life (ibid.). Nevertheless, the lack of childcare facilities is another important influencing factor (ibid.). The report states, that the extent of this problems differs in East and West Germany (ibid. p. 55). The traditional view on family management is more common in the West while an egalitarian view on gender roles is predominant in the East (ibid.). These normative settings are supplemented by the number of childcare facilities provided as a structural factor - in West Germany the range is rather limited. Whereas choosing between family and career is less compelling in East Germany (ibid. p. 55 f.). In addition, Eva Berger takes a closer look at the German childcare system and states that a huge gap between huge demand and limited supply and the inflexibility of the facilities themselves, e.g. concerning opening hours, make the topic of employment decisions of parents in Germany very important (Berger, 2009, p. 1 ff.). “The partner’s involvement in childcare, possibilities to follow a flexible working schedule and occupy a flexible employment position, and access to informal childcare options” are identified as other influencing factors (ibid. p. 3).

Moreover, even though the employment rate of women increased there have been rather little changes in the view on labour division within the family, meaning that, even if mothers work full-time they are carrying the main burden of the family duties and housework (Ludwig / Schlevogt, 2002, p. 135). Klaus Peter Strohmeier and Annett Schultz point out that this stability of the traditional labour division within the family stands in stark contrast to the verifiable modernisations on the normative level (Strohmeier / Schultz, 2005, p. 67). Furthermore, the risks of family life are privatised and mainly women have to bear the costs for having a family (ibid. p. 68). They explain that especially the decision for a first child and family related phases of unemployed have a huge effect on the further course of life and cause high opportunity and reconciliation costs (ibid.). In connections with costs it should be mentioned that, additional to the mentioned challenges and those disadvantages commonly associated with gender, mothers suffer a motherhood penalty not only on wages but e.g. also on competence ratings (Correll / Benard / Paik, 2007, p. 1297 f.). Several studies show for different countries, including Germany, that this “motherhood penalty appears robust both internationally and historically” (ibid. p. 1333 f.).


[1] Own calculation

Excerpt out of 11 pages


Between motherhood and work. Challenges for ‘working moms’ in Germany
Ruhr-University of Bochum  (Fakultät für Sozialwissenschaft)
Arbeit und Geschlecht im flexibilisierten Kapitalismus
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Mothers, Work, Challenges, Role Models
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Jasmin Brands (Author), 2013, Between motherhood and work. Challenges for ‘working moms’ in Germany, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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