Silvia Meier* has two children, aged three and one. She works as an administrative assistant two days a week, but even working this much is only possible thanks to her mother and her mother-in-law.
Raising a family in Switzerland is expensive and complicated, especially when childcare and taxes are figured into it. Many depend on grandparents and after-school activities to keep things running smoothly without breaking the budget.
“Without the grandparents’ help, I’d just end up working to pay the crèche fees,” Meier told swissinfo.ch. She and her husband live in Oberrieden on Lake Zurich. They’ve been a couple for six years, but they only got married in May 2012. They decided to tie the knot for a few reasons: love, a consistent family name, and the sake of family security.
Meier said that she and her husband had checked in advance to see whether being married would result in a higher tax bill. According to the Federal Tax Administration, many married couples pay up to ten per cent more income tax than unmarried couples do. This is particularly the case if their joint income amounts to more than SFr80,000 ($86,210).
“For us it doesn’t make much of a difference,” she said.
Simone Giger, on the other hand, suspects that it would. Like Meier, she also works in an office two days a week and has two children, aged eight and four. She and the children’s father have been together for 18 years and for the moment do not intend to marry.
“Without the children we wouldn’t even consider getting married. We’d rather spend the money on leisure and holidays,” Giger told swissinfo.ch.
She lives in a Bern suburb and relies on her mother as well as the local day school programme to cover childcare while she’s at work.
OECD – gender gap
Switzerland could do better in terms of family- and female-friendly policies, according to a December 2012 report published by the OECD.
“Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now” states for example that countries can establish legislation requiring communities and employers to provide certain services to benefit working mothers.
The OECD looked into day care enrolment rates for children aged three to five and found that fewer than half (46.8 per cent) of Swiss children in that age group attended a day care programme.
In addition to criticising Switzerland’s dearth of child care solutions, the report highlighted the wage gap between men and women – a gap that makes going back to work less attractive for mothers. This is particularly the case if the money simply covers the cost of day care, or if it pushes the family into a higher tax bracket.
Day care luxury
“There’s a super day school programme here in Ostermundigen,” Giger said, referring to the before- and after-school activities as well as the school lunches that are provided. The fees for these services are calculated based on what a family can afford. However, Giger knows that not every Swiss community enjoys these luxuries.
The Christian Democratic Party – which often champions family issues as part of its political agenda – wants to come to the aid of families like Giger’s and Meier’s. It has collected enough signatures to force a nationwide ballot on two proposals to give families a break.
One aims to relieve the tax burden on married couples; the other would exempt child and education allowances from taxes. But before these initiatives come to a vote, the Swiss will first decide (on March 3) whether government policy becomes more family friendly. (See related article.)
Meier hopes that family friendly laws will also lead to longer maternity leave. “It should be at least six months for mothers, and two weeks or even a month for fathers,” she said.
According to a recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report, Switzerland falls somewhere in the middle among OECD countries with pregnant women entitled to 14 weeks off – more than Australia’s six weeks, but nowhere close to Britain’s 52.
*Not her real name