It is not easy to say when family policy is effective. What first comes to mind is the question of fertility, meaning that family policy can be deemed effective when it is possible to have fertility rates at a level that comes sufficiently near to ensure the reproduction of society. A more flexible view would be to deem family policies effective when they allow a person to have as many children as he or she wishes to have.

However, there are other issues at stake: Mothers should have the possibility to go to work; equal distribution of household chores should be advanced; and fathers should be encouraged to participate in childcare.

Anne Gauthier introduced  different models in welfare states already 1996, namely:

The pro-natalist model aims at higher fertility;

The pro-traditional model aims to ensure the survival of traditional family. Usually family has to be the supporting unit, and when family policy is rooted in this model we find little infrastructure and not sufficient childcare provisions;

The pro-egalitarian model aims to achieve the work – family balance: A lot of support is given by the state to enable flexible return to work and the receipt of cash benefits by the family be it that the parent is on parental leave or not; and

The pro-familial model that supports mainly the poorer families and has, as its goal, the solving of the problem of poverty. Apart from this, the pro-familial model leaves the rest of the responsibility to the traditional family.

Three areas are addressed in these models, namely economy, culture and society.

Nowadays economy has been granted priority: Central to this perspective is to make it possible for mothers to remain in employment and to offer the possibilities of combining work and family. Alongside this, measures are in place for the re-entry to the labor market and for the replacement of earnings. Addressing child poverty is more an indirect outcome of these kinds of policy measures because achieving an adequate income for the parents results in lowering the risk of child poverty.

Family policy also needs to address family values, the question of culture and of the role of mothers and fathers. Northern European countries are more individualistic, while southern European countries emphasize family as a group and an entity. There are inevitably different views on the necessity of childcare institutions when, on the one hand, a child is embedded in family and, on the other, when focus is more on the realization of people´s lifestyles even when they become parents. Value studies deliver the background to this perspective.

The third field where family policy could be influential is the field of social norms that provide the rules and values on how to live. Social norms guide us on what we are to do if we wish to be a good mother or a good father: as a mother, we should stay at home at least for the first year, we should take care of finances as a good father in the breadwinner system. However, in other cultures you are a good mother when you give the child an early chance to socialize in childcare institutions such as kindergarten and to be responsible for the emotional well-being of children as a good father – and therefore stay at home.


Why does this differentiation between economy, society and culture make sense?

Working to ensure daily survival of the family (economy), staying in tune with societal rules and being integrated in community (society) and living and creating shared values (culture) are interdependent areas in life. Consequently, whenever we change the setting in one of these areas, it will have an impact on other areas. This is again due to the specific historical situation determining which of these systems gets priority. In our Western world, the economic system has priority. Following career plans, working full-time, gaining financial autonomy, etc. are all examples of the driving forces for family policy measures.

If we know that these systems are working together, we could also set other priorities and prioritise, for instance, the subjective well-being, which is not out of question: A former European project, the Family Platform raised this issue. Seeing as we have put a lot of effort in the economic perspective, future family policy in rich countries can and should focus on other issues.

Some questions that need to be discussed and answered should ask: How will family policy change if we prioritize the well-being in a society? How can family policies be made more effective? Finally, a fundamental question: What is a successful family policy? How would you answer?


Source: Gauthier, Anne Hélène (1996): The State and the Family. A Comparative Analysis of Family Policies in Industrialized Countries: Oxford.


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