Even in the individualised and highly mobile world of the 21st century, family is accorded a central role. For almost nine out of ten Germans, family continues to be the most important social institution and influential reference group. At the same time ideas about the typical family form are changing. Less than half the people in Germany live in a family unit. Despite the decline of traditional family structures, in 2014 married couples with children under 18 constituted the most common family form at 69 percent. The number of marriages shows a downward trend; in 2013 the figure was 373,600. A little more than one in three marriages ends in divorce. The average length of marriages that ended in divorce in 2013 was 14 years and eight months. Around 44,000 marriages take place between Germans and foreigners.
The number of unmarried couples with children living together is significantly increasing. Between 1996 and 2013 the figure doubled to 8.1 million families today; every tenth couple with a child is unmarried. Families with just one parent are the strongest-growing family form. Today single parents make up a fifth of all parent-child constellations and nine out of ten of the 1.64 million single parents are women. Single parents are often at considerable risk of enduring poverty; 40 percent of them draw state benefits.
Same-sex partnerships are among those forms of living that are gaining in significance. In 2013 there were 78,000 homosexual couples living together in Germany – a third more than ten years previously. Around 35,000 of them live in a registered partnership, which has since 2001 ensured that same-sex couples’ relationships are legally recognised.
Whereas on the one hand new forms of cohabitation are emerging, on the other the number of one-person households is on the rise. 41 percent of all private households are single households – 16.5 million people live alone. While this development is a result of demographic change, with the number of elderly people living alone increasing, more young people are also living alone.
Targeted support for families with parental leave and family allowance
Structures are likewise changing within families. Intergenerational relationships between parents and children are often good and as a rule are not characterised by traditional or authoritarian upbringing patterns, but by involvement, affection, encouragement and the promotion of independence. The proportion of working mothers has risen to over 66 percent (2006: 61 percent). More than 70 percent of working women with children work on a part-time basis however, especially those whose children are not yet at school; the corresponding figure for working fathers is just five percent. In 2014 the employment rate of women in Germany was 73.1 percent, the second-highest figure in the EU and clearly above the EU average (62.3 percent).
The parental leave introduced in 2007 enables couples to more easily reconcile starting a family with professional further development. It is among the numerous benefits designed to assist parents and contribute to a family-friendly society. Parental leave gives both partners the option of suspending their job for up to three years. During this period they receive family allowance for up to 14 months amounting to 67 percent of their last net income (minimum of 300, maximum of 1,800 euros) to secure their livelihood.
75 percent of Germans consider family allowance to be a good arrangement; almost all parents take advantage of the benefit. However, four out of five fathers only take the minimum period of two months off. It continues to be primarily mothers who stay at home for a longer period after having children. The Elterngeld Plus family allowance scheme launched in 2015 makes returning to work early on even more worthwhile: Parents who work part-time receive financial support for up to 28 months.
The number of nursery places for under-threes has more than doubled
Since 1 August 2013 children have had a legal right to a nursery place upon reaching the age of one. Today every third child under three (694,500 children in 2015) attends one of the 54,000 day-care facilities or is cared for by one of 44,000 child minders. The number of nursery places for under-threes has more than doubled since 2006.
Parental leave, family allowance, and improved overall conditions for day-care for babies and pre-schoolers continue to create the preconditions for the equal treatment of women as laid down in the Basic Law. Whereas in the education sector young women have not only caught up with, but in part overtaken young men (in 2014 54.4 percent of those attained a university entrance qualification were women, 48.7 percent of new students in 2014/15 were women), there are still differences between the sexes as regards pay and career paths: On average women working full-time only earn around 78 percent of the salary of their male counterparts. They also continue to be under-represented in managerial roles. According to a study by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), of the 877 seats on the executive boards of the top 200 companies, only 47 are occupied by women.
In 2015 the Law on Equal Participation of Women and Men in Leadership Positions entered into force in the private and public sector. Among other things, it stipulates that women must occupy 30 percent of seats on the supervisory councils of companies listed on the stock exchange. In future 3,500 additional firms must set themselves binding targets to increase the proportion of women in managerial positions. The proportion of women in the Bundestag has, in contrast, developed remarkably, currently at 36.5 percent.
Inclusion as an important social responsibility
The Federal Government also aims to create equal opportunities for people with disabilities. It is working towards an inclusive society in which everyone can participate equally: at school, at work, in leisure time. This requires comprehensive accessibility – and the aim is to remove both obstacles in buildings, on streets and paths and social hurdles, such as access to the labour market.
In 2007 Germany was one of the first states to sign the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with a national action plan structuring its implementation. Among other things, it envisages intensive preparation measures for working life for severely disabled youths. Going beyond the action plan, a federal participation law is envisaged, thus aligning support for people with disabilities even more closely with individual living situations.
The elderly constitute a further group whose needs and potential the Federal Government particularly has in mind. 17 million people in Germany are aged 65 years or older. Their wealth of experience is considered beneficial to society. Their ways of life have likewise diversified and changed; overall elderly people are considerably more active today than in the past. They are frequently also still integrated in the labour market. As meeting places, 450 multigenerational houses promote an intensive dialogue between old and young, bringing together people of different ages.