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Germany attempts to reverse falling birthrate


Germany attempts to reverse falling birthrate
Updated Wed. May. 3 2006 11:32 PM ET

Associated Press

BERLIN -- As a Cabinet minister, doctor and mother of seven, Ursula von der Leyen speaks from experience when she urges German lawmakers to make it easier to combine work and children.

The 47-year-old minister for families is leading the six-month-old German government's effort to combat one of Europe's lowest birthrates by overhauling a generous benefits system that still hasn't persuaded people to have more children.

"Viewed internationally, we spend a relatively large sum of money for families, but with a much lower positive effect than other countries," von der Leyen said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Indeed, births in Germany dropped 4 percent in 2005 from the previous year, according to figures from the Federal Statistics Agency, to around 690,000.

That's the lowest since World War II and lagging even 1946, when 922,000 babies were born even as the country lay in ruins.

This is despite annual government spending on family support programs worth $103 billion, ranging from up to three years paid maternity leave to monthly subsidies of $185 per child through at least age 18.

If the trend continues, by 2020 experts worry there won't be enough people to fund the nation's generous pension and social system, which is already undergoing cuts.

Many have noted that other countries seem to have achieved higher birthrates by focusing less on money than on ways to make it easier for parents to combine work and family.

BERLIN (AFP) - "This will allow grandparents to interrupt their professional activities to enable them to take care of their grandchildren if the parents are minors themselves," Hanno Schaefer told AFP.

Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats and a mother of seven, has proposed that the grandparents be allowed to take unpaid leave for up to three years.

Schaefer said the Social Democrats, partners in Merkel's ruling coalition, have indicated that they will support such a move.

Merkel's government is seeking to improve child care support in a bid to raise Germany's birthrate and defuse the potential social welfare crisis posed by the country's ageing population.

The birth rate has long been among the lowest in Europe, with between 1.3 and 1.4 children per woman, and experts have blamed the baby shortage on the difficulties parents faced in combining work and a family.

The introduction in January 2007 of new benefits for stay-at-home parents seems to have had a positive effect, as the birth rate rose slightly last year for the first time in a decade.

The measures allow parents to take up to a year of leave from work after the birth of a child and receive up to 1,800 euros (2,640 dollars) per month.

Von der Leyen has also initiated a programme to triple the number of places at day care centres by 2013, drawing protest from ultra-conservatives.


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