Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


german-mother

Mother and child in Germany. (PHOTO: IRINA SCHMIDT/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Rabenmutter: Germany Waging the War for Talent Without Women

• August 14, 2013 • 3:08 PM

Mother and child in Germany. (PHOTO: IRINA SCHMIDT/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Germany is facing a serious talent shortage, but the country continues to stigmatize working mothers, who are already underpaid and underemployed.

Germany is dying. Low fertility rates and xenophobia exacerbate a talent shortage. Towns throughout the country shrink toward oblivion. Yet Germany refuses to embrace the obvious solution, putting women to work:

Germany, however, an island of prosperity, is spending heavily to find ways out of the doom-and-gloom predictions, and it would seem ideally placed to show the Continent the way. So far, though, even while spending $265 billion a year on family subsidies, Germany has proved only how hard it can be. That is in part because the solution lies in remaking values, customs and attitudes in a country that has a troubled history with accepting immigrants and where working women with children are still tagged with the label “raven mothers,” implying neglectfulness.

If Germany is to avoid a major labor shortage, experts say, it will have to find ways to keep older workers in their jobs, after decades of pushing them toward early retirement, and it will have to attract immigrants and make them feel welcome enough to make a life here. It will also need to get more women into the work force while at the same time encouraging them to have more children, a difficult change for a country that has long glorified stay-at-home mothers. …

… Melanie Vogel, 39, of Bonn, found that trying to blend work and motherhood was so lonely, dispiriting and expensive that she decided to have one child. None of her friends worked full time, her mother-in-law made clear she disapproved, and so did clients in the job fair company she runs with her husband.

“Before my son was born, I was Melanie, a working businesswoman,” Mrs. Vogel said. “But after my son was born, to a lot of people, I was just a mother.”

Many working mothers find themselves quickly pushed into poorly paid “mini” jobs — perhaps 17 hours a week for about $600 a month. More than four million working women in Germany, about a quarter of the female work force, hold such jobs.

Employees with limited geographic mobility, such as the stigmatized raven mothers (Rabenmutter), comprise a captive labor market. Working moms are not only underpaid, but underemployed. Out of cultural tradition, Germany is wasting talent.

Pittsburgh used to suffer from the same problem. Men worked in the mills. Women raised the children. Local leadership knew this division of labor was unsustainable:

For Pittsburgh, no matter what you read about transformation this, or transformation that, make no doubt that the most meaningful story of transformation in the Pittsburgh economy has been in the story of female labor force participation catching up with the nation’s. The impact of that is bigger than most everything else we talk about when it comes to economic change in Pittsburgh.

I will throw out there again the quote from 1947 that presages it all. Here is the advice that was ignored until it was too late:

(Pittsburgh) will, however, slowly decline unless new industries employing women and those engaged in the production of consumer goods are attracted to the area.

Which is from a report written by a place called the Econometric Institute based in News York City and titled: “Long Range Outlook for the Pittsburgh Industrial Area”, stamped February 12, 1947 and was for the Allegheny Conference and the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce.

Much has been made of Pittsburgh’s good fortune relative to that of Detroit’s. The region didn’t magically get its act together in the wake of the 1980s exodus. The vision of a postindustrial Pittsburgh was written in the shadow of World War II. That’s when the fate of Pittsburgh diverged from Detroit. Postwar, Detroit doubled down on manufacturing.

However, perhaps out of sheer desperation, Pittsburgh did open the doors to women in the workforce after the recessions of the early 1980s. As regional economist Chris Briem says, “it was too late.”

But enter the workforce they did, causing a curious paradox. As the population declined, the number of people employed or looking for jobs grew:

From 1980-2000, the 7-county MSA lost about 200,000 people. Yet, by my reckoning, the labor force is bigger in 2000 than it was in 1980. Whatever the exact numbers, Pittsburgh’s population shrank while the labor force is at least the same as it was just before the devastating recession.

Or, look at the 70s. Again, the population declined over that decade. Yet the labor force dramatically grew. Even the powerful correction failed to reduce the number of employment seekers to 1970 levels, not even close. Unless my eyes deceive me, the Pittsburgh MSA has gained about 200,000 workers in 40 years. That’s impressive for a dying city.

Like for Germany today, the story was population decline. Meanwhile, the labor force grew dramatically. Germany could continue to shrink and address the talent shortages without taking on more immigrants. Lean in, raven mothers. Save the fatherland.

Jim Russell
Jim Russell is a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development.

More From Jim Russell

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 19 • 8:00 AM

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.


December 19 • 6:12 AM

All That ‘Call of Duty’ With Your Friends Has Not Made You a More Violent Person

But all that solo Call of Duty has.


December 19 • 4:00 AM

Food for Thought: WIC Works

New research finds participation in the federal WIC program, which subsidizes healthy foods for young children, is linked with stronger cognitive development and higher test scores.


December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



December 16 • 4:00 PM

How Fear of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross’ Sandy Relief Effort

Red Cross responders say there was a ban on working with the widely praised Occupy Sandy relief group because it was seen as politically unpalatable.


December 16 • 3:30 PM

Murder! Mayhem! And That’s Just the Cartoons!

New research suggests deaths are common features of animated features aimed at children.


December 16 • 1:43 PM

In Tragedy, Empathy Still Dependent on Proximity

In spite of an increasingly connected world, in the face of adversity, a personal touch is most effective.


December 16 • 12:00 PM

The ‘New York Times’ Is Hooked on Drug du Jour Journalism

For the paper of record, addiction is always about this drug or that drug rather than the real causes.


December 16 • 10:00 AM

What Is the Point of Academic Books?

Ultimately, they’re meant to disseminate knowledge. But their narrow appeal makes them expensive to produce and harder to sell.


December 16 • 8:00 AM

Unjust and Unwell: The Racial Issues That Could Be Affecting Your Health Care

Physicians and medical students have the same problems with implicit bias as the rest of us.


Follow us


Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.