|Posted by Lynette Hinings-Marshall on April 12, 2020 at 10:05 AM|
There were about 20 baby carriages lined up outside my gym this morning. Mondays is mothers’ day so I have become accustomed to seeing babies gurgling in bassinets while their yummy mummies exercise beside them.
Danes possibly do child rearing better than most and it is probably just nit picking to add that a government that needs to increase the birth rate enables this. Generous government benefits for new mothers include one year’s paid leave with a guaranteed job when they return to work plus a lifetime of free education and free health for each child. Children in university are paid 5900 Danish kroners (about 1200 Australian dollars) each month to attend university so it will come as no surprise that many Danes have masters degrees.
Who wouldn’t stay at university when paid to do so, particularly when there are masters degrees offered in “Shoes and Handbags”. I kid you not. When I applied to lecture part time at the university in Copenhagen I scanned the curriculum and found that course offering. My husband is working in Denmark because there is a shortage of qualified engineers. I guess it is much easier to get a degree in bartending than engineering and certainly makes one’s university years more fun.
Back to the babies; why does the government encourage a high birth rate? Well there obviously has to be another generation to pay the 52+ per cent tax rate to pay for the educational and health benefits and the 25% VAT (Value Added Tax) also has to be paid. Yes, everything you buy in Denmark whether it is groceries, cosmetics, and clothes or going out to dinner, has a massive 25% tax added to your bill. A cup of coffee at most cafes costs AUD $7 and that is when you pay up front at the cash register, find your own table and a staff member delivers it to you. Hiring costs make it too expensive to hire enough staff to offer table service when you enter. If you buy a car you pay a whopping 180 per cent tax, which brings us to the bicycles.
The astronomical cost for a car is one reason there are so many bicycles. It is not because Danes are so health-conscious. I never tire of seeing beautiful, happy children sitting in the little open box in the front of their parent’s bicycle, but the number of Danes smoking while riding bicycles eschews the health notion. Apart from the pleasure of seeing a road filled with bicycles in the middle of the city another upside to living in a city of bicycles is the quiet. I live in the centre of the city and it is often as quiet as living in the country; all because there are so few cars, particularly at evenings and weekends.
Is there a downside to this bicycle culture? Well, bicycles definitely rule here and heaven help the motorist or pedestrian who gets in their way. Many bikes are abandoned on public streets for months at a time, probably because there is no fine imposed for abandoning one’s bike. This means bikes are parked at my front door, in front of cafes I am trying to enter and department store entrances become an obstacle course. As Copenhagen is a very windy city, there are days when so many bicycles are knocked over by the wind it is virtually impossible to navigate around them and I have to walk on the street dodging oncoming cars. But I actually prefer these problems to the different problems presented by the vast number of cars on the road back home in Victoria. When I am in my small village of Mount Eliza I find it necessary to walk to the grocery store whenever possible because it is virtually impossible to find a place to park my car.
Is there a downside to a city that encourages babies’ participation in every conceivable activity? I certainly never tire of seeing so many beautiful, contented babies but I do notice a large number of single parents out and about at weekends. Having a baby without marriage is acceptable here and IVF for single women is common. However, whether single of married, Danish men are comfortable shopping for groceries with a child on one hip and every Danish male I know cooks.
All babies are placed into municipal nurseries or private day care centres in private homes so that both parents can continue to work to pay those taxes. This means they learn cooperation with others from an early age and very young Danish children appear more independent than say one to three year olds back home in Australia. I do wonder though if the more individualistic child is overlooked in this conformist environment. And what do these babies become when they hit their pre-teen and adolescent years? Well, that is another story for another time.