I do not envy politicians who are commissioned to take care for families. Their efforts seem to have little effect on the well-being of families, as the social data expenditures database from OECD suggests assembled by Hans Bertram (Hans Bertram, Carolin Deuflhard, Die überfordete Generation. 2015).

Taken a glance on the public spending for families in percentages of the GNP the picture is manifold and frustrating. You cannot predict the risk of poverty, the well-being of the family, the well-being of the children by the amount of public spending from the governments.

The OECD database measures three kinds of expenditures: direct money transfer, infrastructure, which means equipment with child care institutions and tax exemptions. In average the OECD countries spend 2,6% of the GNP for families – the differences between countries are enormous. Korea is on the lowest side with 1% expenditures while Ireland on the upper side with 4,3% expenditures, slightly more than Great Britain with about 4,2%. In the range of 3,5% to 4% you will find Island, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, New Zealand, Belgium, Norway, Finland and Germany. On the lowest end of 1,5% to 1% you will find Japan, Chile, Switzerland, USA (1,2%) Mexico and Korea.

High and low percentage for family expenditures are to be found in very different states with very different economic situation, with very different child poverty risk, with different fertility rates or with different women employment rates.

Moreover, the mixture of the measures differs. While Ireland gives 3,2% of the GNP as direct financial transfers, Great Britain spends a little less than 2,5%. While Ireland spends about 0,7% for Infrastructure and 0,15% in tax exemptions, Great Britain spends roughly 1,25% on Infrastructure and 0,45% with the exemptions.

The Northern European countries as there are Denmark, Sweden, Island and Finland spend more than the half of their family expenditures to infrastructure and show no tax exemptions at all.

It is a very diverse picture which does not uncover a master strategy. Liberal states like the USA and Great Britain differ widely in how much they spend on families. Welfare States for which the northern European states are typical seem to count on infrastructure to support the family, but so do Chile or Greece and Mexico, with generally very small expenditures of the GNP. France with a comparatively high fertility rate provides a mixture with a little bit more putting in infrastructure than in financial transfers and a small amount in tax expenditures.

A confusing picture. Without getting into more detail in the data, we can these family expenditures don’t relate with women’s participation in the labour force. It does not have impact on fertility either, as USA has a higher fertility rate with lower expenditures than Sweden. Not all liberal countries place emphasis on private and civil society issues, as USA does, Great Britain as a liberal state gives a bigger amount to infrastructure than Germany with its social welfare system.


What does this mean?

We know that more money for families does not lead to more children or a more satisfying work-life balance. Now we can say that also more infrastructure does not lead to more children in any case. And infrastructure has to be supplemented by social networks.

What are the consequences? I think: comparison does not really help, it shows no best practice strategy, many things can work, depending on the historical and economic situation of the country, and, obviously, a lot of things – like money or even infrastructure does not necessarily work in the intended way.

Concentrating on the specific possibilities in your country, will open much more a field of possibilities than looking at other countries. No country is an ideal. Don´t try to catch up with the political Miller´s in other countries- Focus on a specific situation in your country.


11 thoughts on “The dilemma of family policy

  1. I agree that expenditures on family-oriented policies, by location, means very little in influencing or determining how well families and children thrive…not alone. There must be an alignment across systems, policies, and a collective vision as demonstrated on the ground, so to speak. Policies can be undermined by incongruent group think, and unless values, beliefs, needs and challenges are addressed across systems, impact will be minimally felt by the average family, highlighted by diversity, income, and other social, external variables which are unique to location, etc….

    We need to create forums where all voices are heard, to factor in local issues, and then progress outward into the bigger society into state, then national level concerns, too. But then, we still can never ensure family wellness no matter where we ‘throw’ money. We can only increase the access and opportunity, if knowledge and desire is there, I guess. What do you suggest is necessary for family wellness in this country, any country?


    1. Creating a family – that is: children-friendly environment is one of the most necessary things. The US in this by far better than most countries in Europe. Nevertheless, you have to think of the parents. There must be possibilities to follow there independent interest – with the consequence of yourse, they need a minimum income, which allows some financial flexibility. And important also: good quality institutions for childcare.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I completely agree! Next thought, how do we rally our “by, of and for the people” elected officials to prioritize and be representative of the voices, as a collective, and not acting on the will of a few? Prioritization is key for this democracy. People aren’t engaging because it seems no one is listening. Quintessential dilemma!


      2. Family first! That is where our strength as a nation is realized. Families pass the ‘torch’ and their children hold the torches with brighter more inclusive rays of hope for today and tomorrow. Childcare-critical to our future success, along with public education’s framework of practices. Kids take their knowledge and bring it home. Family is critical, so why aren’t we regarding it as such? Not everyone has boots or bootstraps!


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