The Development of Women’s Roles in Germany Since World War II

Pre-University Paper, 2015

16 Pages, Grade: 1.0




Problem Statement
Data Collection

Main Part
Role of Women since 1950
Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) until 1989
German Democratic Republic (GDR) until 1989
Present (1989-today)
Gender Development Index
Cases of three generations: roles, identity and behaviour of women
Adolescence and young adulthood (15 years) between 1950 and 1975
Adolescence and young adulthood (15 years) between 1975 and 2000
Adolescence (14 years) between 2000 and 2015

Women at work
Sharing household and care taking chores

Internet Sources
Interview Guideline


“My former husband said: “The man is the protector and the woman is the (maid) servant.” “– Mrs X (Due to data privacy I will not release any information on the female interview participant)

It may seem hard to believe, but not too long ago this quote was the reality of most women in Germany. It was self-evident that the woman was inferior to the man. She took care of the household and the children while the man went to work. This is the role women had to play.

Role is a word all too familiar to us. In the dictionary it says: “a part that someone or something has in a particular activity or situation”[1]. One can play the main character in a movie, TV series or a play. One can also play a certain role in everyday life e.g. at home, work and in society in general. The latter is the topic I want to address. In this Facharbeit I want to find out whether the roles of women have or have not changed over time.

It is clear, that women have received more rights in the past. Especially in Germany compared to other countries, since they got to vote already in 1919 as to where in Switzerland they were allowed to vote only in 1971[2]. But what was the woman’s role according to society 50 years ago? Nowadays it is completely normal for women to have jobs that are usually viewed as jobs “only for men”. But what was it like then?

In the first part of the Facharbeit I want to go into the role of women since the 1950s (the post-war period). This includes the roles of women in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Subsequently are the current roles of women in Germany described.

In the second part, as my own share of the Facharbeit, I interviewed three females from three different generations. The women were born in the 1930s, in the 1960s and the girl in 1999/2000. All of the questions were asked regarding the time the women were 15 years of age, so the interests would be similar to the girl from my generation. This way it was easier to compare the changes in the roles of women/girls in Germany.

In the end of my Facharbeit I will draw up a summary and therewith conclude and evaluate the role changes.


Problem Statement

Nowadays, one assumes that gender equity is more or less achieved in Germany. Nevertheless, women and men have different positions in society for example have different roles, identities, and behaviours. These positions have changed over time due to economic, political and socio-cultural development. Changes in gender relationships have taken place in various sectors of society, e.g. in family, neighbourhoods and associations, school and education, at work and in business, but also in more public spheres such as in politics and media.

While the change is assumed to having brought more gender equity, it is questionable, if all sectors of society have had similar achievements. The Facharbeit will answer the question whether roles and identities of women have changed in order to have more gender equity.


The aims of the Facharbeit are

- To find out if and how roles and status of women have changed over the course of 60 years.

- To find out in which sectors of society potential changes are most pronounced

- To find out which factors influenced theses changes that might have occurred

In order to reach this aim, several research questions have been formulated that are answered in this Facharbeit:

- How women perceive their role and identity in society now and in the past? Are there changes, and if yes, where and how?
- Which factors do influence the change?
- Which roles and identities haven’t changed so much?


Two main working hypotheses are to be investigated, which are

1.Women nowadays can work where they want. They are not restricted by cultures and regulations.

2.If there has been a change in roles of women in the household, there is also more equality in the household related to care taking activities, even men take over tasks in the household.

Data Collection

Data collection was done in two ways. First, literature on the history of women’s roles and women’s movements since the 1950s in Germany was studied. Second, three interviews were conducted with women of three different generations. Each interview lasted approximately one hour. Two interviews were done in German and one in English. The interview guideline is attached in the annex.

Main Part

Role of Women since 1950

At the end of the Second World War the situation of women in Germany was very tough. Not only men but also women feared the retaliation as men as well as women had been politically active during Nazi time and were involved in leading positions. Women, for example, sometimes worked as wardens in concentration camps, even though they were involved to a lesser extent in the Nazi regime than men[3]. Many men were still abroad in war captivity, so the women were on their own. It was their role to clean up and start a new life in the totally destroyed Germany. There was an overflow of 7 million women compared to men[4]. A well-known symbol for the hard life of women in the Post-War period was the Trümmerfrau, which can be translated as “woman who cleared debris after World War II”[5].

The notion of the three K’s, which was formed in the Nazi period, was continued after the Second World War. The three K’s meaning Kinder (children), Küche (kitchen), Kirche (church) stood for the woman’s sole purpose in life[6].

Figure 1 : Trümmerfrauen in East Berlin (Women working in the rubble)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: (accessed 9 February 2015)

Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) until 1989

After the Second World War, the 3K’s model was still dominant in the West German society. In 1949, during the constitution process of the FRG a female parliamentarian fought for the article 3: "Men and women are equal/have equal rights"[7]. The basic idea for an equal society was set, but there was very little evidence, that this ideal view of a society was actually pursued. Real life situation was different, as the marriage and family law was very conservative and was oriented toward the rights of the husband. Married women were only allowed to work if their husband allowed it. The women’s salary was always lower than the men’s even if they had the same jobs. Only in 1977 a law passed that allowed both partners, husband and wife, to be active in the labour market and at the same time had to show mutual interest for the duties in the family and the household[8]. As a matter of fact, this didn’t turn out to be very successful as there were not enough child caring facilities, and if women actually worked they did this mostly part-time which would allow them to look after the household and the children in the afternoon.

The women’s movement in West Germany began “from below”, that means it was initiated by the women themselves, because political decision makers did not strongly support the idea of women’s emancipation. Women in West Germany since the 1970s fought for equal rights, e.g. equal rights in family, right to abortion, right to divorce[9].

German Democratic Republic (GDR) until 1989

The emancipation of women was one key element of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (German acronym: SED). The main principle of the GDR was that women could also be freed when women were integrated into the production and work environment[10]. The policy on women’s issues was implemented in three phases. The first phase (1946-1965) focused on integrating women in the work life. In 1950 a law was passed to allow women to get maternity leave, access to child care facilities and promotion of working life of women. Also the decision-making power was transferred to both, husband and wife, and not, as it was in the past, the head of the household (the man) made the decisions in the family. The second phase concentrated on advanced training and qualification of women (1963-1972)[11]. Even though women were working, there was still not equity in payment. The image of the East German workingwoman was that of a self-confident, well-educated and successful career woman. Still, women were requested to behave like the good girls they were brought up to be. The third phase (1971-1989) focused on achieving a work-life balance. Many social advantages were given to women to release them from the long working hours and the workload for household duties. A law was passed that women had the right to take a day off every month to do the housekeeping. Later this law was extended to single fathers.[12]

Women in the GDR received numerous chances to develop a different role compared to the former traditional housewife. This was a huge change for this time. Even though the laws to protect women’s rights were passed quite early, old values, attitudes and behaviours toward women continued to exist for a longer time.

Present (1989-today)

When Germany was unified in 1989 it did not just merge two halves of a country back together, but also two very different societies. The former FRG and GDR were unlike one another concerning the roles that women played at home and at work. In the GDR more than 90% of women between 15 and 60 were employed, while in FRG this rate was only 60%[13].

During the reunification process old East Germany was forced to adapt to the West German norms and cultures. Even though all societal sectors of East Germany were rearranged, women were affected the most. Many women lost their job, and even more were turned into part-time workers. Many companies were closed and therefore also their day-care facilities[14]. The gender imbalance in this restructuring process is illustrated by the following: By 1995 only 23% of working men had lost their employment, the figure among working women was much higher at 36%[15].

25 years later, the female employment situation in both parts of Germany is similar, though a little bit more employment of women in the East. In 2012, 58% of women had a permanent job in the East, whereas in the West it was 51%.[16]

Gender Development Index

The equality between genders can be seen in numbers with the help of the Gender Development Index, which is based n the Human Development Index (HDI), an index that is generated every year to compare the human livelihood situation worldwide[17]. The HDI measures three spheres of development, which are

1. a long and healthy life, measured as life expectancy at birth

2. a good knowledge base, measured as adult literacy rate and gross enrolment ratio

3. access to resources to meet a decent standard of living measured as gross domestic product (GDP) per capita

The Gender Development Index disaggregates these main indicators by gender to highlight gender disparities at national level. In the latest report of 2014, 187 countries were included. Germany is ranked 6 after other high-income countries Norway (1), Australia, Switzerland, Netherlands, and the United States (5). Only Norway and the United States are also ranked high in the GDI, while Germany has high disparities between male and female regarding education and income. Therefore it has been ranked only 61 in 2014 (while it has been ranked 20 in previous years). Countries with a relatively high GDI are the Scandinavian, some Latin American and Eastern European countries.

Table 1: Global Gender Gap 2013: List of 14 countries with highest rank

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: World Economic Forum 2013

The World Economic Forum has initiated another gender index in 2006, the so-called Global Gender Gap Index (see Table 1), to track progress and developments in gender disparities among nations[18]. It is based on four pillars: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment. Table 1 shows Germany with its rank 14 out of 136 countries. Political empowerment, which is measured as ratio of females with seats in parliament over male value, the ratio of females at ministerial level over male value, and the years of female head of states over male value is ranked with 15 at higher level. Sweden in comparison is on rank 4 in the political empowerment subcategory. It shows very high gender balance in the parliament, in which almost 45% of the members are female[19].

Cases of three generations: roles, identity and behaviour of women

In this part of the Facharbeit follow the results of the conducted interviews of three women from three different generations.

Adolescence and young adulthood (15 years) between 1950 and 1975

Mrs X is 78 years old. When she was 15 her younger brother was 13 years old. Her mother took care of the household, while her father went to work. The kids didn’t really help in the household. They mostly did their schoolwork. Mrs X sometimes helped her mother press duvet covers. Her brother didn’t help in the household, which was typical for boys. The children had very little to say in the household. If they wanted to have some food out of the fridge, they had to ask for permission first.

At the age of 15, Mrs X went to an all girls’ school. During breaks she talked to her girlfriends about actors they liked.

Her first boyfriend was the son of the neighbours, whom she often went biking with. Even though their parents knew each other, her parents didn’t really approve of their relationship. They thought she should wait to have a boyfriend until she was planning on getting married. Having a relationship with a boy at such a young age was very unusual at that point in time.

Mrs X had one female and one male role model. The female role model was Audrey Hepburn, whom she dressed like, because she admired her. She stood for beauty, youthfulness and independence. In “Roman Holiday” she broke out of a castle and did things that were impossible for a princess to do. This is what Mrs X very much identified herself with. The male role model or male celebrity she liked was Clark Gable from “Gone with the Wind”. He stood for masculine strength. He would catch you when you fell, he would protect you, he would lead you, he would always be there, and would help you with decisions. Mrs X was looking for a man, who offered protection and stability, which was very typical for her generation. The woman was perceived to be the weaker one in the relationship, which her parents exemplified to her.

Mrs X never imagined anything other than starting a family and being a housewife in her future. Her father already had plans about what kind of job he wanted her to do. When she left school at the age of 16, he signed her up to pursue an apprenticeship in an insurance company without having asked her beforehand. She didn’t want to act on the suggestion from her father and talked to her boyfriend. He proposed her to go to a school of interpreting in Munich. She then told her parents where she wanted to go instead of the insurance company. They said: “But we already saved your dowry. We cannot pay your school fee.” They had a hope chest where they had collected bed linen, tablecloths, her silver cutlery et cetera for her. They always thought she was going to marry someday and therefore she needed what was called “dowry”. It was a supply of things that one needs at the beginning of a marriage. Mrs X was speechless when she heard her parents had made such a decision without her knowing. According to Mrs X the future of most young women was determined by the parent’s decisions and actions. But then her parents reluctantly allowed her to go to this school of interpreting.

She believes nowadays girls in Germany can be more independent and have more decision making power. They also have more responsibilities. Then, women depended on their husbands. In society, women only had a value if they had a man at their side. The time where Mrs X was raised was a really restrictive time for girls. They were forced to grow into a certain direction, as a housewife and servant for their husbands.


[1] (accessed on February 10 2015)

[2]Blättel, I. (1989): 70 Jahre Frauenwahlrecht in Deutschland, pp 7-11, in: Informationen für die Frau 1989, Folge 1.

[3]Nave-Herz, Rosemarie (1993): Die Geschichte der Frauenbewegung in Deutschland, Hrsg.: Niedersächsische Landeszentrale für Politische Bildung Hannover, Bonn.


[5]PONS:übersetzung/deutsch-englisch/Trümmerfrau (accessed 9 February 2015)

[6]Bridenthal, Renate (1973): Beyond Kinder, Küche, Kirche: Weimar Women at Work. Central European History, 6, pp 148-166.

[7]Frauenbewegung - der Kampf für Gleichberechtigung: (accessed 12 February 2015)

[8]Notz, Gisela (2012): Die Geschichte der Frauenbewegungen in Ost- und Westdeutschland, Zeitschrift für Sozialistische Politik und Wissenschaft, (accessed 12 February 2015).

[9]Lewis, Jone Johnson (1995): Germany - Status of Women, (accessed on 14 February 2015)

[10]Bütow, Birgit, Heidi Stecker (Hrsg.) (1994): EigenArtige Ostfrauen, Frauenemazipation in der DDR und den neuen Bundesländern, Institut Frau und Gesellschaft, Reihe Theorie und Praxis der Frauenforschung, Band 22, Kleine Verlag, Bielefeld.

[11]Ibid, p.23

[12]Sachse, C. (2002): Der Hausarbeitstag Gerechtigkeit und Gleichberechtigung in Ost und West 1939-1994. Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen.

[13]FES (2001): Keine Wende am Arbeitsmarkt in Ostdeutschland : eine Zwischenbilanz im Jahre 1996 (Reihe "Wirtschaftspolitische Diskurse" ; 89), Klaus Funken 1996; elektronische Version: FES (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung) Library. (accessed on 12 February 2015)

[14]Lewis, Jone Johnson (1995): Germany - Status of Women, (accessed on 14 February 2015)

[15]Bonin, H. and Euwal, R. (2002): Participation Behavior of East German Women after German Unification, p.3, (accessed on 14 February 2015)

[16]DPA/The Local (14.1.2015): More women work in east than west: Study, (accessed on 14 February 2015)

[17]UNDP (2014): Human Development Report 2014: Sustaining Human Progress: reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience, (accessed on 9 February 2015)

[18]World Economic Forum (2013): The Global Gender Gap Index 2013. (accessed on 27 February 2015)

[19]ibid, p. 21.

Excerpt out of 16 pages


The Development of Women’s Roles in Germany Since World War II
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ISBN (Book)
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Development, Women, Identity, Germany, gender, gdr, frg, gender role, roles
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Antonia Fischer (Author), 2015, The Development of Women’s Roles in Germany Since World War II, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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