This is how significant the gender pay gap is in Germany

Germany's image is of a progressive, forward thinking country. But women earn an average of 21 percent less than men. We investigated the gender wage gap and those trying to address it.

This is how significant the gender pay gap is in Germany
A satisfied customer of Bikeopia. Photo: mmh

On the first International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrated as a public holiday in Berlin for the first time ever, one bike shop slashed prices to bring attention to the gender wage gap – an issue not only unresolved but commonly misunderstood in Germany.

SEE ALSO: Where to celebrate Women's Day in Berlin

In the hip neighbourhood of Friedrichshain in former east Berlin, Bikeopia bike shop offered women a 10 percent discount on everything in-store between February 21st and March 9th.

It’s “a small gesture to address a big problem”, say owners Maurice Hawkesworth and Eugenio Troia, referring to Germany’s yet-unresolved gender pay gap. Losing 10% of their turnover through the experiment, the discount is, they say, designed to make them “feel for a short period what it’s like to get 10% less”.

One of Bikeopia's customers benefitting from the discount. Photo: mmh

Behind the pay gap

In actuality, even 10% doesn’t quite match the real size of the pay gap in Germany. Last year, the Federal Statistics Office reported that women were paid 21% less than men in 2017, showing little progress from the year before. It’s a figure that puts Germany second only to the United Kingdom in Europe for having the worst gender pay disparity.

What makes the issue so interesting in Germany is that few – local or otherwise – seem to realize the severity or scale of the problem. Hawkesworth and Troia both told The Local, for instance, that the idea for their bike shop sale sprung from a dispute they had over the existence of the pay gap.

“We immediately turned to the arbitrator of all our bike shop disputes: Google…To our surprise, [we found that] Germany’s pay gap is one of the highest in Europe,” said Hawkesworth.

Though they say the reaction to the sale has been overwhelmingly positive, both men claim that when “we told our women customers when they were paying about the rebate many of them had no idea [about the pay gap],” said Troia.

This discrepancy between perception and reality exists in part because of Germany’s image as a forward-thinking, progressive country. Especially to those looking in from other developed nations like the UK and the USA, Germany’s generous maternity leave, welfare benefits and long-time female head of state project the appearance of a nation in step – or even ahead – of the times.

Graph created for The Local by Statista

A 'mediocre' performance

Take a closer look at social attitudes and real figures, however, and this idea quickly unravels. A 2015 report from the European Parliament, for instance, rated Germany’s performance in achieving gender equality as “mediocre” in comparison to other EU member states, pointing to a lack of effective equality policies, re-traditionalizing family policies and the gender pay gap as some of the main issues.

Since that report, a 2016 law requiring large companies to appoint at least 30 percent women to their supervisory boards and a 2017 “Wage Transparency Act” have both been passed – but success has been limited.

SEE ALSO: Why these women say wage transparency isn't enough

Just last year, the German Institute for Economic Research found that there’s been virtually no progress on getting more women onto German boards, while campaigners argue that the Wage Transparency Act places too much onus on individuals to request information on wage discrepancies.

What’s more, regressive social attitudes about gender still linger in Germany, particularly in relation to “women’s work” or “Frauenberufe”; a term still commonly used to refer to lower-paid careers like nursing or hairdressing.

It’s stereotypes like these, in part, that push women to towards lower-paid, insecure work, while men take jobs higher up the pay scale.

Tackling misconceptions about career choice

It’s with this discrepancy in the kind of careers women and men “choose” that another kind of misunderstanding about the pay gap in Germany emerges: that the gender pay gap exists because women are simply being paid less than men for the exact same work.

Yet when Germany’s pay gap is “adjusted” to compare men and women with comparable qualifications in comparable jobs, it stands at just 6%.

Customers browsing at Bikeopia. Photo: mmh

While some use this figure to discredit the severity of the pay gap, this data more tellingly reveals the complexity of the pay gap, which isn’t simply a product of straightforward discrimination but a society in which sexism is experienced at every level, driving women’s and men’s choices from an early age.

In Germany, for instance, women tend to study more traditionally “feminine” subjects in the social sciences and humanities, whereas men tend to study more “masculine” subjects in the hard sciences, leading to lower-paid jobs and lifetime earnings for women.

Because social attitudes still dictate that women should bear responsibility for childcare, fewer women than men are in the workforce overall, and lacking kita provisions often lead to new mothers reducing their hours or dropping out of work. Interestingly enough, in East Germany, where women were  more likely to work during the GDR era, the pay gap is still – even today – far smaller than in the west.

A slow shift

It’s clear that Germany’s approach to solving the gender pay gap must be multi-faceted, focusing not only on policy alone but social attitudes too.

With this year’s first public holiday to celebrate IWD and shops like Bikeopia acknowledging the issue, it seems things might finally be shifting – even if progress is slow.

And while Hawkesworth and Troia recognize that their sale alone won’t solve this complex issue, they “do recommend it to people who want to know how it feels to make 10% less even if it’s only for a short period of time”.

As their experiment draws to a close, they conclude that “there is hope in the world because even the youngest of our clients seemed almost puzzled by the idea of a gender pay gap, [coming into the shop and commenting] “What, there’s a gender pay gap? That’s ridiculous!”

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7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers

To celebrate the works of women in the German film industry, and at the conclusion of this year's special outdoor Berlinale, we have compiled a list of seven must-watch German films directed by women. 

7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers
A scene from System Crasher. credit: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Peter Hartwig

This year’s Oscars marked the first time in its almost 100-year history that two female filmmakers – Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell – were nominated in the Best Director category. Only five women have ever been nominated for this award. Zhao took home the gong, becoming just the second woman ever to do so.

In 2021’s Berlinale Festival, 60 percent of the films in the Generation category were directed by women — with 75 percent of female filmmakers making up the Kplus selection (a category for younger audiences).

Here is a look at seven films by some of the most influential female directors in German cinema.

Never Sleep Again (1992) — Pia Frankenberg

Featured in Berlinale’s Retrospective series, meant to showcase female filmmakers, this film is written, directed and produced by Cologne-born filmmaker, Pia Frankenberg.

The film follows three female friends through post-unification Berlin, who are making their way to a wedding when their car breaks down. They wander through the streets of former East Berlin, roaming in and out of bars meeting men. 

The dilapidated sites of the former Cold War frontier city, still scarred by World War II, become a place for sheer endless personal experimentation where the women begin to reconfigure their lives and loves.

Frankenberg’s impressionistic portrait of three women in the city reflects on the state of the newly unified Germany, where for a moment all possibilities seemed radically open. (Available on Mubi, Binged)

The German Sisters (1981) — Margarethe Von Trotta 

Considered one of the classics of the New German Cinema movement, The German Sisters tells an intimate story of Germany. 

Based on the real-life story of the Enslein sisters, it is an expression of director Margarethe Von Trotta’s combination of the personal and the political. It’s the story of Juliane, a feminist journalist and her sister, Marianne, who is a terrorist revolutionary. The film, which won six awards at the Venice Film Festival including the Golden Lion, was Margarethe Von Trotta’s third film and first collaboration with Barbara Sukowa. The director-actor duo went on to do six more films together. (Available on Mubi, Prime)

Margarethe Von Trotta on set in 1975. Photo: dpa | Bertram

Toni Erdmann (2016) — Maren Ade 

Toni Erdmann is a German-Austrian comedy which was directed, written and co-produced by Maren Ade. The film, which premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, was named the best film of 2016. 

Meant to showcase the intricacies of a father-daughter relationship, the film pairs carefully constructed, three-dimensional characters in a tenderly funny character study. A hard-working woman reluctantly agrees to spend time with her estranged father when he unexpectedly arrives.

As a practical joker, the father does his best to reconnect by pretending to be her CEO’s life coach. (Available on Mubi, Kanopy, Prime, Vudu)

I Was at Home, But (2019) — Angela Schanelec 

I was at home, but (Ich war zuhause, aber) is a 2019 German drama film directed by Angela Schanelec. At the Berlinale that year, Schanelec won the Silver Bear for Best Director. 

The film is a story about a 13-year-old student, Phillip, who disappears without a trace for a week and suddenly reappears. 

It maps the existential crises his mother and teachers are confronted with that change their whole view of life. The film features several plots, which tell the stories of several people who are all connected to Phillip in some way. It has scenes with long silences, to contrast ones with heavy dialogue, which critics believe makes this film a cinematic masterpiece. (Available on Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, Vudu, or rent on YouTube).

The Audition (2019) — Ina Weisse

This film has been described as a symphonic study of human behaviour. It’s the story of a violin teacher, who takes great interest in mentoring a student for an audition. Anna, the violinist and teacher played by Nina Hoss, shows plenty of compassion toward the boy at first, but their relationship becomes much more strained as the date of Alexander’s audition nears and Anna begins to put him through musical torture. Come the day of the exam, events take a tragic turn. (Available on Amazon Prime Video)

Pelican Blood (2019) — Katrin Gebbe 

Pelican Blood is written and directed by Katrin Gebbe, who won the 2014 Preis der Deutschen Filmkritik (German Film Critics’ Prize) for her first film.

It tells the story of a woman who trains police horses. She adopts her second child, a severely traumatised five-year-old girl. When the girl shows violent and anti-social behaviour, her new mother becomes determined to help her.

The film has been described as raising fascinating questions – how do you draw boundaries for a child who seems to ignore them or even takes a perverse pleasure in overstepping them? What can you do as a parent when you realize that your love and protection aren’t enough? (Available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime)

System Crasher (2019) — Nora Fingscheidt

Another film about a rebellious child, System Crasher picked up a whopping eight German Film Awards after its release in 2019.

The film has a powerful political message about the inadequacies of the universal child care system. The protagonist, Benni, is a violent nine-year-old girl who suffers from psychotic episodes. Her key social worker, Frau Bafané, tries to get Benni into special schools or facilities; dozens turn her down and Benni is too young to be effectively sectioned as an inpatient.

In an interview with The Guardian, Fingscheidt says, “There’s a very German dimension to the film in the obsession with bureaucracy, with rules that need to be adhered to. Rules like, ‘this child cannot stay in this home because they are getting too emotionally attached,’ when that institution may be the first place where a child has begun to open up.”

The film has received an incredible amount of international recognition, garnering 45 international awards. (Available on Netflix)