New flagship study is out: "What young women want"

A broad data base brings new insights on expectations by young women in Germany about family policy and gender equality

Photo: iStock by Fernando Podolski




What do young women actually think about family policy and gender equality? What is the impact they have in their everyday life, and where do they see the need for political action?

Prof. Dr. Carsten Wippermann from the DELTA Institute for Social and Ecological Research addressed these questions in a recent study commissioned by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. His team conducted focus group interviews with women from all social classes and milieus and the findings were supplemented with the results of a quantitative, representative survey. The broad data base offers new insights into the real-life circumstances and attitudes of women aged between 18 and 40 years.

Key results: Young women want equal pay, equal opportunities in professional life as well as high quality and free-of-charge child care.

Despite many improvements, young women believe that gender equality is far from being realised: only one in ten sees gender equality between men and women achieved in its entirety. When it comes to starting a family and having children, they fear falling back into traditional gender roles. The main reason they see for this: the lack of pay equity.

Lack of pay equity is considered the main reason to break out of traditional gender roles

They also see a lack of family friendliness in corporate culture and demand more flexibility in regard to working time. The majority of young women aged over 30 are striving towards a working week between 30 and 35 hours.

Young women, however, are also demanding more state support for mothers and families in Germany. In order to improve the reconcilability of work and family, they see a great need for investment in the continued expansion of childcare services. They demand: free-of-charge day care and more flexible opening hours (e.g. in the evenings).

“Further investments are required in the childcare sector. It is an investment in the future that will also pay off economically. For many young women, the high costs in some places and the continued inflexibility of care services on offer constitute a considerable obstacle when it comes to increase their working hours,” emphasises Dr. Stefanie Elies, Head of the Division Politics and Society of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

The author of the study Carsten Wippermann, Professor of Sociology and head of the DELTA Institute emphasises the link between the lack of equal pay and the reticence of many young women with regard to having children: “That is why young women with a high-level of professional qualification and job ambitions tackle the topic of “having children” with great reservation. They want children but they postpone the point in time when they start a family so as not to fall into the trap of re-traditionalisation, part-time work and financial dependence on their partner. Having children is no longer a matter of course for many young women, but rather a matter of concern.”

Dr. Stefanie Elies sees a clear need for political action here: “The topic of equal pay is very present among young women. It is a social injustice that is by no means merely a private problem. Politics has to support women here. The parliamentary bill to promote equal pay between women and men submitted by Manuela Schwesig, the Federal Minister of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth will be an important step to create greater transparency in salaries.”

Jonathan Menge* on:

General about the making of the study
“We conceptualized and commissioned the study in mid-2015. Overall it took about a year until it was published in July 2016. It usually takes quite a while to finish such a study project, but it is always a great feeling when everything comes together in the end.”

Reactions to the study
“The most frequent reactions was: What about the young men? We decided to initially focus on women, since even in 2016 they still earn less than men and are discriminated in many ways. We were actually thinking about doing a “sister survey” about young men, but the Ministry for Family Affairs is already conducting a pretty similar study – it might be even a bit inspired by our study design. Two of the biggest German online media, Spiegel Online and Zeit Online, featured articles about it. The one published by Zeit was read more than 300.000 times – that is something out of the day to day routine. People are really interested in family and gender politics in Germany at the moment. Though, we also observe a growing Anti-Gender/ Anti-Feminist movement, not only in Germany but almost everywhere in the European Union.”

Importance of the study for FES
“We learned a lot for our own work. The study shows that young women are very progressive subgroup in society. And, we learned about the issues that are important to young women in Germany. When you want to engage them in political education activities, the issues you choose to address are important as well as well as how you address them. Young people expect to get involved! We also use the study findings for policy advice. The study shows that young women want a gender just society in regard to care work and employment. We will continue working towards a more gender equal distributions between men and women.”

*Jonathan Menge is the contact person for the publication What Young Women Want? He is policy officer for Family Policies and Gender Equality at the FES headquarter in Berlin.

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