New role models

Equality in the family: It is increasingly acceptable for men to be involved in children’s education and household chores.
Equality in the family: It is increasingly acceptable for men to be involved in children’s education and household chores. Gudrun Petersen/dpa
The lives of men and women in Germany are becoming more alike – but huge differences still exist in some areas.

There are more women than men in Germany: in 2015 around 41.4 million compared to 39.9 million male inhabitants. Women in Germany have a higher life expectancy. New-born girls can expect to reach the age of 83, while a boy’s life expectancy is 78.

The lives of men and women have altered dramatically in recent decades and new role models have evolved. For one thing, women now have a higher level of education: An above-average number of girls attend schools leading to a higher qualification. In the school year 2014/2015 the proportion of female students at academically oriented secondary schools stood at around 52%. Likewise, roughly half of the students at university are female.

Late in starting families

The longer period spent in education is one reason why the decision to start a family or marry is often deferred. On average, women in Germany marry at age 31, and have their first child at the age of 29.6. Statistically speaking, they give birth to 1.5 children – a figure which has risen slightly, but is still low by international comparison.

Caring for children is seemingly still largely the province of women. This affects their ability to pursue a career long term. Admittedly, larger numbers of women are in employment today – between 2004 and 2014 the number of gainfully employed women rose by 1.2 million to 19.1 million. Overall, in 2014 around 39.9 million people in Germany had a job, making up 78% of all inhabitants between the ages of 20 and 64. That said, almost half of the women only work part time; this is particularly true of working mums.

Different career prospects

Elected in 2005, German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel is the first female to head a German government; in the Bundestag 219 of the 709 MPs are female. German women also occupy top positions in international institutions, for example Helga Schmid, General Secretary of the European External Action Service (EEAS). But on the whole, women make a career for themselves less often than men; this also goes for the economy and administration. In 2014 not even one in three executive positions in firms were filled by women. Compared to the other EU member states, Germany is in the lower third. Legislative initiatives are intended to counter this trend. For example, a law passed in 2015 stipulates that 30% of posts on the supervisory boards of listed firms be filled by women. Similarly, only a handful of women have executive positions in important government offices. In 2014, only 150 of the over 700 departmental heads in government ministries and other high-ranking authorities were female. This led in 2015 to the reform of the Federal Equal Treatment Act. The civil service is now obliged to fix targets for raising the proportion of women.

More women are to achieve higher positions in the academic world, too. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) initiated the Female Professors Program, which promotes equality at universities and colleges. In 2014 every second male beginning studies chose a mathematical, engineering or science subject (“MINT”) while the figure for young women was only one in four. The Ministry’s National Pact for Women in MINT careers supports women in typically male subject areas.

When it comes to apprenticeships, certain patterns are also only changing slowly. The majority of male trainees still choose to pursue mechanical engineering and automotive engineering, while many women opt for a career in health and social services. This is also reflected in incomes: On average, women earn 21% less than men.

Altered self-perception

Despite the continuing differences in many areas the lives of men and women are becoming increasingly similar. The equality anchored in the German Constitution or “Basic Law” is actually practised in most families and partnerships. Questions relating to everyday life are answered jointly, important decisions, say, on the children’s education or financial matters are made together. And it is increasingly acceptable for men to become involved in children’s education and housework. It remains to be seen whether the new influx of migrants to Germany will influence this development. However, regardless of a person’s origins and religion, equality is a human right that must be preserved.

Generally, we can say that the new gender relations are questioning traditional role models – researchers are talking of a “gender shift”. There is much to indicate that in particular the way men see themselves is changing. A stronger reflection on one’s own identity and social role can be observed: Male magazines explore emotions and larger numbers of men are owning up to their fears and weaknesses. The 2013 male health report argues that for many years there was a taboo surrounding emotional ailments in men. But that is changing, for between 2009 and 2014 the number of men who sought a therapist rose by 20%.

Men dominate the world of work

Women also have to contend with their role in contemporary society. Many employers still lack the flexibility women need in order to be able to start a family and pursue a career. In addition, people expect women to be committed and successful in all areas of their lives – both in their jobs and private lives. Apparently, a growing number of young, well-educated women deliberately avoid these expectations and stay at home longer with their children.

However, we also find the opposite trend, namely women who specifically choose a life without children. Their wish for a successful career may play a role here. That said, in the course of their careers women also see themselves confronted with challenges. In many companies approaches to work, hierarchies and career paths are still male dominated.

The debate on role models in Germany is complex and involves many different facets and players. But role models have little in common with the feminism promoted, say, by Alice Schwarzer, arguably Germany’s best-known advocate of women’s rights. Many younger feminists distance themselves from Schwarzer, because as they see it she is too keen to blame men for the lack of equality. Anne Wizorek is just one representative of the new German feminism. In 2013, under the hashtag “Aufschrei” (Outcry) she initiated an extensive debate in the social media on sexism in everyday life.