The expression was allegedly used by Kaiser Wilhelm II, describing women’s role in society in the 19th century. The words are sometimes written in varying orders (e.g. "Küche, Kirche, Kinder").
Although the phrase predated the Nazi era, it came to be associated also with the Nazi Third Reich. In a September 1934 speech to the National Socialist Women's Organization, Adolf Hitler argued that for the German woman her “world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home,” a policy which was reinforced by the stress on "Kinder" and "Küche" in propaganda, and the bestowing of the Cross of Honor of the German Mother on women bearing four or more babies.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, he introduced a Law for the Encouragement of Marriage, which entitled newly married couples to a loan of 1000 marks (around 9 months average wages at that time). On their first child, they could keep 250 marks. On their second, they could keep another 250. They reclaimed all of the loan by their fourth child.
During this period, women in employment were discriminated against and forced out or bribed with numerous social benefits. Medicine, the law and civil service were occupations reserved for men alone Eventually, women were put back in the factories because of the growing losses in the armed forces and the desperate lack of equipment on the front lines.
In 1967, feminist Naomi Weisstein wrote Kinder, Küche, Kirche as Scientific Law: Psychology Constructs the Female, perhaps the earliest work in the discipline of the psychology of women, which was reprinted over 42 times in six different languages.
Despite significant gains, women have not reached equality in all regards: Women are noticeably absent in the top tiers of German business. They only hold 9.2% of jobs in Germany's upper and middle management positions.
Nowadays, the 3K's are sometimes rephrased to also include Karriere (career), usually replacing church.