Germany sees increase in number of working mothers

Germany sees increase in number of working mothers

Figures from two micro censuses conducted by the Federal Office of Statistics (Destatis) have shown that more women in Germany are choosing to work while their children are under 18 years old. The findings reveal another stark socioeconomic difference between eastern and western German states.

Significantly more working mothers in Germany since 1997

According to new figures from Destatis, around 69 percent of women in Germany work while their children are under the age of 18. This is an increase of 11 percentage points since 1997.

As with many socioeconomic factors, such as wages and life expectancy, there is also a discrepancy between the number of working mothers employed in the states which made up West Germany and the GDR. In 2022, 66 percent of mothers in western states, 68 percent in northern states and 70 percent in southern states - which together made up West Germany - were working while their children were under 18. In states of the former GDR, 76 percent of mothers were employed before their children turned 18.

Back in 1997, just six years after Germany had reunified, this discrepancy was even bigger. Only half of women in the former West Germany worked while their children were under 18, compared to 69 percent in the former GDR.

Why do more mothers work in eastern Germany?

Germany’s history of division between 1945 and 1991 and the political leanings of the two former countries still shape the economic landscape of the modern federal republic. 

In the 1950s, most women in West Germany were expected to carry out a lifetime of unpaid domestic labour, like many others throughout the Western world. In the East, women were being encouraged to join the workforce full-time, while the state ran childcare facilities (Kinderkrippen) which cost 25 Deutsche Marks per month, around 13 euros in today’s money.

While women were encouraged to engage in paid work outside of the family, the economic value of reproductive labour was largely overlooked in the GDR, with non-working mothers being dubbed “Schmarotzer” (freeloaders or parasites). West Germany had its own vocabulary which reflected a condemnation from the opposing political perspective, mothers who worked were “Rabenmutter”, named after the raven’s readiness to leave their young around 6 months after birth, and those who used childcare were shamed of “Fremdbetreuung” (care from strangers).

Since many Germans spent a considerable number of their formative years in the FDR or the GDR, these expectations still inform modern German attitudes towards women who choose to work while their children are under 18.

The difference in modern Germany’s economy in eastern and western states is also a decisive factor. 2022 figures from Destatis found that while Germans in western states work less, they also earn more, meaning that they are more likely to be able to afford to live on one income to support their families and have more time to care for their children themselves.

Thumb image credit: Dusan Petkovic /

Olivia Logan


Olivia Logan

Editor for Germany at IamExpat Media. Olivia first came to Germany in 2013 to work as an Au Pair. Since studying English Literature and German in Scotland, Freiburg and Berlin...

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