Economic Development in Denmark Before and During the World War/Care of Widows and Orphans

Care of Widows and Orphans

The train of ideas which led to the passage of the old-age pension act was bound to extend to another case, namely, to the care of widows. In Germany the great Imperial Act of 1911, by which all the various insurance acts were consolidated, took widows into consideration, but was chiefly concerned with invalid widows. At the same time an annuity was introduced for the support of legitimate children whose fathers were dead, independently of the invalidity of the father.

In Denmark the lines already laid down were closely followed, and an arrangement was thus elaborated which was simple and yet much more comprehensive. The act of April 29, 1913, gives indigent widows the right to a government allowance for the support and education of their legitimate children, the maximum of which is fixed at 100 kroner ($27) annually for children under two years, 80 kroner ($21 ) from two to twelve years, 60 kroner ($16) from twelve to fourteen years (with exceptional prolongation to the eighteenth year), with a deduction applicable to widows in such circumstances that they do not require the whole sum. One-half of the expense is borne by the state and the other half by the municipality. By an act of March 4, 1918, the rates were increased 50 per cent. This system is much less burdensome upon the public than that of the old-age pensions. There are in all about 8,000 widows with about 20,000 children, and the expense in 1917−1918 was 1,300,000 kroner. Thus the new measure entered easily into the old system.

But there next arose a closely allied question. During the last generation there has been a remarkable change of feeling in regard to the position of illegitimate children. The old attitude made it difficult for them to get on in the world, for instance, in obtaining apprenticeship to an artisan. In the course of time, however, the matter came to be considered from a much more humane point of view, and in 1908 the legislature came to the aid of unmarried mothers by passing an act entitling them to get the alimony which the father owes, paid in advance by the public. But if illegitimate children are thus helped, there is much to be said in the support of the argument that legitimate children should not be put in a less favourable position. The Widow's Act becomes in reality an act of justice to the woman who has married.