Although Germany and France bear many similarities regarding economics, politics and institutions as compared to other European countries, the birth rate and full-time female labour force participation rate are significantly lower in Germany. Both in France and in Germany, there has been a massive increase in female labour force participation since the 1960s – the female labour force participation rate is currently above 60% in both countries.
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However, a lot more women, particularly mothers, are employed full time in France than in Germany. The fertility rates of the two countries are similarly divergent: at 1.4 children per woman aged 14 to 49, the fertiltiy rate is much lower in Germany than in France, where it currently stands at 2.1. Additionally, many women in Germany are employed in low-wage sectors, especially single mothers with young children. In France, on the other hand, a legal minimum wage and the tendency to be employed full-time mean that more women are financially independent and have their own old age insurance. In terms of salary and career paths, French women are at an advantage also, because the pay gender gap is significantly lower in France than in Germany and there are more women in senior positions.
These differences in women’s employment and birth rates indicate that it is more difficult for women in Germany to successfully balance work and family life than it is for women in France. Mothers in France have a broader range of choices whereas mothers in Germany are sometimes forced to choose between having a family or a career. The most commonly cited reason for this difference is the insufficient system of public child care in Germany as compared to France. However, a recently published German argues, that differences regarding social norms, the labour market, social, equality and educational policies and the system of financial support for families significantly contribute to the fact that it is more difficult for women in Germany to balance work and family life. The report illustrates that the interaction of different policy areas causes women to get pushed out of the labour market more often in Germany than in France. This allows us to understand how the differential appreciation of gender equality significantly contributes to the fact that women’s full time labour market participation rates and birth rates strongly differ in Germany and France.
In France, it is not only family policies which are geared towards enabling women to balance work and family life. Other political areas also consider the needs of women and families in particular. In France, the ability to balance work and family life and the equality of men and women are seen as closely related. Gender equality is seen as an overarching topic which covers all areas of policy. A comparison with Germany illustrates that better compatibility of work and family life in France is not due to one single instrument such as childcare, but rather due to a coherent ensemble of many institutional factors. In addition to progressive family politics, Germany requires an active women’s policy transcending all political areas and encouraging women of all ages to master their lives independently. Measures which encourage women’s career ambitions are particularly useful. However, in some areas, such as parental pay during parental leave, even France may yet learn from its neighbour Germany. Therefore, the report not only enhances the mutual understanding of the two countries, but also allows for conclusions regarding policy actions to be taken in both countries.
The report has been published in German language for the International Women’s Day:
Angela Luci (2011): „Frauen auf dem Arbeitsmarkt in Deutschland und Frankreich – Warum es Französinnen besser gelingt, Familie und Beruf zu vereinbaren.“ Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Reihe Internationale Politikanalyse, March 2011.
A resumée in French is also available: