Maternity Leave in Germany

It’s Mat Leave Monday! Today I’ll be talking about maternity leave in Germany. I have heard that they get up to three years leave with each child, so I was very interested to learn more myself. As always, I have no first-hand experience with German maternity leave. If you would like to find more information in English you can refer to this summary of parental leave, AngloInfo Berlin, or the German Missions in the United States. If you need information in German you are probably miles ahead of me already.

I will say that I was not able to find much detailed information in English from the German government on maternity leave, parental leave, or adoption leave. The information I did find supported my secondary sources, so I hope that it is up-to-date. If you have more direct information I would love to hear from you.

German mothers receive employment protection throughout pregnancy, and for 4 months after birth. You are expected to provide written notice of the pregnancy to your employer as early as possible, but because your job is protected this works in your favour. Actual maternity leave is 6 weeks before the birth, and 8 weeks after at full pay. I’m not sure what happens if the baby goes overdue, though. In the case of multiple births, mothers can take 12 weeks after. Privately insured and self-employed women receive maternity pay, but a lower, capped amount.

In addition to maternity leave, parents can take up to three years parental leave, or Elternzeit. This leave is unpaid, and may be taken by either parent. Adoptive parents are also eligible for parental leave, and may take 3 years off from the date of adoption.

There is a de facto system that provides for paid parental leave for birth parents through the Child Allowance, or Elterngeld. Beginning in January 2007 mothers may take 12 months at 67 percent of their pay. This is increased to 14 months of combined leave, if parental leave is shared with the father. The minimum monthly payout is €300 (roughly $464 CAD or $424 USD), and the maximum is €1800 (roughly $2790 CAD or $2540 USD). Since introducing this policy the number of parental leave applications from men increased from 3.5% to 7%. Although less than 1% of German men take advantage of the option of staying home with their babies for a year.

Germany is definitely taking steps in the right direction, by providing a more generous Child Allowance and creating specific provisions for fathers. And the benefits they do offer are fairly well-funded. Although I still think that the maternity leave plans in Norway and Sweden are better, Germany definitely stands apart as a country working to support new families.

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  1. My husband is German and we have a lot of friends in Germany, so I’ve heard quite a bit about their system.

    In many respects it is great. Great, that is, for women that want to take the maximum amount of time off and have several children. Great for women that want to be assured they will have a job to return to after years out of the workplace.

    However, it is not great for women that want to return to work before the 3 years is up. There is very little in the way of childcare options in Germany. Your only option in many places is to get a nanny and that can be very expensive.

    It is also not great for women that want to advance in their careers. There is an unspoken assumption in the workplace that married women will end up taking years off of work. So if you need to promote someone to do an important job, who are you going to promote? The woman that will end up taking 9 years off to care for her 3 children? Or the man that will be there all the time?

    If more men did take advantage of the system and if there were better childcare options, then this might be a good system. However, until those social changes occur, the system will be one that not only allows women to stay home, but that practically forces them to do so at the expense of their career.

  2. Hmmm, interesting thoughts from Annie about what happens when someone doesn’t want to take the full available leave. I agree that encouraging men to take paternity leave will change things.

  3. Hi, I am a Czech (EU) citizen and I just moved to Berlin with my Dutch husband. We are thinking about having a baby in the next couple of years and are wondering how long we need to be living here before we are eligible for full Maternity leave and benefits? Anyone with some info, please let me know. Thanks

    • Bondy Mehrmann says:

      Hello Girl S.

      I don’t think your nationality makes a difference so long as you are living in Germany and have some sort of residency status which requires you to pay taxes and insure yourself. If he is working then his income would affect whether you get Erziehungsgeld and how much for how long. You should also get Kindergeld which is paid to the mother and worth about 160 Euros per child per month until the child is 18 and independent of income. If you are working then your own maternity pay I believe would be linked to the average you earned in the year or months before the birth so you might want to check that out. That’ s how it was for me when I was a self-employed, tax-paying trainer for at least a couple years before I had my son. But things have been changing in the last 18 months.

  4. Bondy Mehrmann says:

    I live in Germany near Nuremberg and am a mother of two children, 4 and 7. Most of what Amber wrote sounds right to me and I also agree with a number of the problems which Annie pointed out. Yes, there is maternity leave of up to 3 years, mostly unpaid, for women or much more rarely taken by the men but in practice this is not as great as it sounds. As Annie mentioned, women have a lot of trouble getting promoted or even getting a job around their fertile years because 3 years of maternity leave does put even the best employer in an awkward position. My neighbour will go back to her bank job in a few months after 9 years of combined, non-stop maternity leave for her 4 children. Will she even recognize the technology they are using? I think that she has the right to go back to her job and be retrained but it certainly will cost her employer more time and trouble than her male colleagues. The effect is obvious, I read recently that women in management in Germany represented about 20% whereas the figure in America is closer to 40%. The problem is made all the worse by the practice of including personal information such as age, marital status, gender and number of children on your job application. Many women likely don’t get a chance. For women like me who are self-employer the whole idea of a 3-year maternity leave is redundant because even though we can get paid benefits in the first few months, maternity leave is entirely at our own risk since there is no one obliged to hire us back. I gave up almost all my clients when I slowed down after my first birth and of course they found a new provider.
    The irony of the whole situation though is that despite what many American women look upon as a dream country to have children, Germany has the second or third lowest birthrate in Europe at about 1.3 babies per woman and far below America’s 2.0 despite the latter’s non-existent maternity leaves. Women in Germany tend to choose between whole-heartedly embracing the mommy track or being career women who remain childless as 1 in 3 women are doing whether entirely by choice or not. Our female chancelor, though childless herself, has made it a priority to increase birthrates in Germany but is doing so through increasing daycare spaces for under 3 year-olds and offering a 2-month paternity leave which can only be taken by the partner and on top of what the woman receives for leave.

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  1. […] Children then start school in Grade 1 when they are 6 years old. Here in Berlin, it seems that despite the option for parents to take up to three years of Elternzeit (parental leave), most people are putting their kids into the KiTa quite early (at around one year […]

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