Sex roles in Germany: Of Mann and Frau

WHEN an up-and-coming 47-year-old man in public life suddenly announces that he will take a less prestigious job to spend more time with the family, it usually means that his career has hit an unexpected obstacle. Jörg Asmussen’s case appears to be different. A member of the executive council of the European Central Bank and thus a high-flier in the money world, Mr Asmussen decided last month to transfer from Frankfurt to Berlin to take a second-tier position in the labour ministry of the new government. The reason, he says, is that his partner and two young daughters live there, and he wants to be a more active father.If Mr Asmussen were Scandinavian, hardly anybody would bat an eyelid. In Germany, however, he is now a subject of dinner-party discussions. Eastern Germany, with its Communist legacy, may be quite advanced in some aspects of gender equality—young mothers tend to use child care early and return to work quickly, for instance. But western Germany, so proudly progressive in many other ways, remains surprisingly conservative in attitudes to gender equality.If anything, German couples are getting more conservative, according to a study by the Allensbach Institute on Lake Constance, which regularly polls Germans on behalf of Vorwerk, a maker of household appliances. Fathers want to take a more active role in parenting, and they make more use of paternity leave after…

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