Changes in society, 1924–29

Changes in the standard of living

There is doubt from some historians as to whether the ‘Golden Age’ actually existed. However, there were improvements that helped ordinary working Germans during this time:

  • Hourly wages rose in real terms (ie above inflation) every year from 1924 to 1930, with a rise of 10 per cent in 1928 alone.
  • Pensions and sickness benefits schemes were introduced.
  • Compulsory unemployment insurance was introduced in 1927, which covered 17 million workers.
  • Government subsidies were provided for the building of local parks, schools and sports facilities, and there was a massive programme of council house construction.

Despite all of this, a large increase in the working age population during the mid-20s led to increasing unemployment, and farmers in particular suffered from declining incomes.

Changes in the position of women

Work

German women contributed massively to the war effort during World War One. However, after the war the government ordered women to return to their pre-war roles, either in low-skilled jobs or in the home, to allow returning soldiers to take up work:

  • Women experienced pressure to return to their ‘traditional’ role as wives and mothers.
  • However, attitudes towards women and work changed according to how well the economy did.
  • During times of economic crisis, such as the hyperinflation of 1923 and during the Great Depression, women returning home were seen as a solution to the problem of unemployment.
  • However, during the recovery of the mid-1920s women were welcomed into the workforce. The number of women in work was 1.7 million higher in 1925 than it had been in 1907.
  • Women were increasingly taking on white collar jobs, though these were mainly done by single women under 25.
  • Overall, the percentage of women in work only rose by less than 1 per cent between 1907 and 1925.

Politics

German women achieved the vote on an equal basis with men when the new German constitution was announced in August 1919, along with the right to be elected to the Reichstag and all other governmental bodies. There is evidence that women’s roles in politics grew during the Weimar Republic, but there were also limitations to the progress they made:

Progress

Women participated in democracy

  • Women’s voting turnout in the elections for the National Assembly in January 1919 was the same as men’s at 82 per cent.

Politicians recognised women

  • Political parties quickly realised the need to appeal to the women’s vote and much propaganda was directed towards them.

Women became politicians

  • Women were elected to local and regional assemblies all over Germany, and typically made up around eight per cent of the representatives in the Prussian Landtag, the most powerful regional parliament.

Stayed the same

Not all women participated

  • During the rest of the Weimar period women’s voting turnout was typically 5-10 per cent lower than that of men.

Politicians stereotyped women

Propaganda usually appealed to women as wives and mothers, rather than asking for their vote on the basis of improving their own lives.

Women didn't become very influential

  • By 1933 women made up just 4.6 per cent of the representatives in parliament.
  • No women held cabinet posts during the Weimar Republic’s 14 year existence and no women sat in the upper house of parliament, the Reichsrat.

Women and men tended to vote for similar parties, although women were more likely to vote for religious parties, which tended to be more conservative. Historians disagree on how decisive women’s votes were in bringing the Nazis to power in 1933, but the party’s propaganda targeted women heavily.

Leisure

The classic image of German women in the 1920s is that of the so-called ‘New Woman’, similar to the ‘Flapper’ in 1920s USA: short haired, liberated, having fun. However, not all women’s lives changed as drastically and the leisure activities women took part in showed elements of both continuity and change.

Stayed the sameChanged
Most women continued to enjoy reading as their main leisure activity, with romantic fiction being their preferred genreThere was a huge increase in the number of newspapers and magazines following the abolition of censorship, and many of these new publications were aimed specifically at women
Both working and middle class women enjoyed attending tea dances, where they could meet young menIn urban areas young middle class women began to go out to dance alone, with the American dance known as the Charleston becoming particularly popular in Berlin
Women enjoyed needlework in the homeWomen were estimated to have made up around 75 per cent of cinema audiences during the 1920s. Films were cheap to watch, but only 2 per cent of small towns had a cinema so it was mainly urban women who benefitted from this
Gymnastics was a popular sport amongst women. In 1914 88,000 German women were members of gymnastics associations and by 1930 this number had risen to 200,946Women began to take part in a greater range of sports, in particular athletics. In 1928 Hilde Krahwinkel won an Olympic gold medal in the 800m and in 1931 Cilly Aussem became the first German woman to win Wimbledon