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Life Stages: Work and Professional Life

Germany has ratified the minimum age convention of the International Labor Organization and has fixed the minimum age of employment at 15 years. Youth choose a profession based on individual interest rather than on parental, economic, or social factors. Most Germans start working between the ages of 18 and 22.

Typical Practices

Almost all jobs require completion of specific training programs before a person can perform that type of work. Others require a college education. However, since all levels of education remain free of charge, young people arrive in their job of choice via their own intelligence and how hard they’ve worked in school, rather than by social or economic standing.

Germans generally have higher job mobility within a firm, and lower chances of job mobility to other firms. Changing careers, in Germany, has become more possible now than in the past. However, loyalty remains one of the most valued characteristics in workers, and employers may perceive numerous job changes negatively. Also, extensive notice periods in Germany grow longer the more years a person has been employed. For example, employers usually require a new hire to give four weeks notice if they plan to leave, but will require an employee of 20 years to give seven months notice.

Germans enjoy an early start, and a typical workday begins between 8 and 9 a.m. Increasingly, Germans get a one-hour lunch break. Most employers of office workers expect them to work until 5 in the evening, and expect service or retail workers to stay later. In all cases, working hours are strictly observed. Some offices close early on Friday afternoons. Most Germans work 38.5 hours per week.

Challenges Remain

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has been struggling to offset the negative impacts of unification. Prior to reunification, West Germany enjoyed a prosperous capitalist economy, while the communist economy of the Eastern states had been on the decline. In the post-unification period, the de-industrialization of most of East Germany resulted in about a 25 percent unemployment rate, large-scale migration to West Germany, and a loss of significant parts of the Eastern work force. Although problems created by unification have begun to abate, the standard of living remains higher in the Western half of the country, while the East remains stagnant.

Hard-working German women have less to show for their efforts than women residing in many of their fellow European Union member states. Occasionally, high unemployment rates, particularly in the Eastern states, forces women to accept part-time or lower-wage positions.

Although a substantial number of German women work, they do not always receive equal treatment. Women comprise almost three-quarters of the German workforce, but constitute only about a third of managers and quarter of senior executives. The highest proportions of female executives exist in the service sector and in public administration. Rather than large firms, small and medium-sized enterprises account for the higher concentrations of women in senior executive positions.

Although laws prohibit gender-based pay discrimination, German women only earn around 79 percent of what men performing the same jobs earn. This gap exists in both the public and private sectors, and estimates reckon the gender pay differential in Germany the largest in the European Union. Female industrial workers in former East Germany fare best, earning 94 percent of their male counterparts’ salaries.

Despite the existence of all-day kindergartens, Tagesmütter (“Day Mothers” who provide childcare services), and Kinderhorte (day-homes for school children), childcare fails to adequately meet women’s current needs. General societal prejudices, plus the stress of balancing career and family life sans the kind of "social safety net" enjoyed by their more affluent E.U. neighbors, serve to increase difficulty levels for many working women. Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take any available job or lose her unemployment benefit. This serves as one example of Germany’s less liberal social policies.

The statutory retirement age in Germany for both men and women is 65 years. A recent proposal to increase the retirement age to 67 to help bolster the over-burdened state pension system was not well received.