Posted on March 29, 2005

German Town Promotes Child Care, Sees A Baby Boom

Isabelle de Pommereau, Christian Science Monitor, Mar. 25

FRANKFURT, GERMANY — On a map, it’s just a dot on the outskirts of Münster. But in a country struggling to counter an alarmingly low birthrate, Laer is a statistical wonder.

The town of 6,700 has no movie house, no supermarket, no McDonald’s. But with 13.5 babies born per 1,000 inhabitants, compared with 8.4 nationwide, it does have something of a baby boom. And in Germany, where the low birthrate has already closed down dozens of schools and put the welfare system at risk, Laer is emerging as a model incubator for pro-growth population policy.

Laer boasts day care organized by parents, five all-day kindergartens, and a primary school open till 4:30 p.m. More important, locals say, it has an attitude about parenting that makes it easier for moms and dads to work and raise children. With a family policy centered on enabling mothers to work, Laer is moving closer to much of Europe, bucking a deeply entrenched German tradition that mothers should be child-rearers first and foremost.

It is this different mind-set that attracted Meike Ritter, a stewardess for Lufthansa who is often gone days in a row. “Laer was the only place that could guarantee us that our children could be looked after the entire day,” Guido Ritter, Meike’s husband, said by phone from Laer. “So we said, ‘We have to build ourselves a house here.’” Mr. Ritter was offered a job teaching at the University of Muenster, necessitating the move.

Now other communities, eager to encourage couples to have more children, are following Laer’s lead.

“Laer grasped the signs of the time,” says Kerstin Schmidt, a researcher at the Bertelsmann Foundation in Gütersloh, who helps German towns develop children-friendly work policies. “[It has] created an environment where children and families are welcome. It’s smart economically; that’s how you attract qualified people.”