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German powerhouse leaves working mothers behind

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“The incompatibility is still there, but it is diminishing,” says Michaela Kreyenfeld of the Max-Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock. “It is the policy and the climate in society that’s changing – the whole system is being reformed.”

But cultural norms still keep a high proportion of German women at home with children or childless with careers. 

“Many things have changed, but the old thinking is still holding women back from success in the labor market,” says Elke Holst, director of gender studies at Berlin’s German Institute for Economic Research. “What’s in the head reduces the speed of change."

According to a recent survey by the Allensbach polling institute, only 15 percent of German mothers with children younger than six support the idea of working full-time. Sixty-six percent feel part-time work is more suitable and 10 percent advocate stopping altogether.

Housewife idolized

Germany’s “motherhood cult” has deep historical roots that date back to Martin Luther, according to Barbara Vinken, a professor at Maximilian University in Munich and author of “The German Mother.” 

“In Germany, the idea that it’s possible to combine family life and a career is rejected by society as a whole,” Ms. Vinken says.

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