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Kids and Careers

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Around this time of year last year, the curator position of the Hafíssetrid museum in Blönduós was advertised. I applied and was invited for an interview.

"Well, well, well," said the mayor of town, who conducted the interview, in an impressed manner while reading through my CV.

I have master degrees in history and English literature, which doesn't get me anywhere in my native Germany. We’re called "the intern generation" for a reason.

In Iceland, however, a master's degree is considered much more prestigious and it might just bag you the job of the Central Bank governor.

(Earlier this year, the Icelandic parliament crafted a bill that required the central bank governor to have a master's degree in economics, a degree which the then governor, Davíd Oddsson, did not have.)

So even though my Icelandic was far from perfect, the mayor said he would like to hire me and asked whether I could work the occasional weekend as well.

At that time, my daughter was just one year old and not in kindergarten yet. When I told him that I had a daughter and I didn't want her in daycare—with her father or grandmother, that was—on weekends as well, he simply said:

"Why not take her with you then, she might enjoy the stuffed animals exhibited in the museum?" I had a second job. The previous year I was had been hired as head librarian in Blönduós, at which point my daughter was only six months old.

And that is another big difference between Iceland and Germany—the country with one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe, 1.4 children per woman, while Iceland boasts one of the highest fertility rates in the continent, 1.9 children per woman.

Icelandic employers aren't scared to hire young mothers. Icelandic women rarely have to choose between having kids and having a career. (In 2008, nearly 90 percent of all mothers in Iceland were employed, according to Forbes magazine. Whether they all want to work or have to work is another question, of course.)

German women do have to choose, for many different reasons, poor childcare, a tax system that encourages mothers to stay at home, prevailing prejudices, to name a few. "Women are less dedicated to their work once they have a child" and "daycare damages your baby" are phrases often heard in Germany. None of the above are an issue in Iceland.

Not yet, anyway. Obviously, Iceland isn't the country it was when I moved here in 2007. Unemployment rates have risen sharply since I applied for the museum job last year, when the kreppa was not yet a household word.

Employers might soon be less excited about hiring mothers, or fathers, for that matter, especially single ones, when childless and thus a lot more flexible individuals come knocking on their door—just like anywhere else in the world.

(Not that choosing a life without children is wrong, if that is what someone wants. Whether you have children or not simply shouldn't matter that much on the job market.)

Childcare in Iceland might suffer from cuts in public expenditure. Icelanders might stop patting a father-to-be on the shoulder, hugging the mother-to-be and shouting a wholehearted "til hamingju!" (“congratulations!”) but look worried instead and say "oh dear" like the Germans do.

I hope not. For purely selfish reasons, of course. I enjoy working and being a mother. I don't want to have to choose. I can’t afford to, either. So I'd like to keep building my career and maybe have a second child. Actually, definitely have a second child! My boyfriend and I have another baby on the way...

Katharina Schneider – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.