Understanding Trajectories of Family Policy Change in 14 OECD Countries
Despite overall trends in family policy expansion internationally, both in terms of expenditures and generosity, the existence of different family policy country clusters raises the question of whether there are also distinctive trajectories of family policy change. The potential for different trajectories is especially salient in the wake of post-industrialization and demographic changes over the past 20 years. Examining distinctive clusters of family policy trends over time can also illustrate country-level variation in the magnitude and quality of family policy expansion. Previous studies have focused on either expenditures only or one specific family policy, and have overlooked the critical multi-dimensions and variation in family policy expansion. Thus, the purpose of this study is to reveal distinctive changes in family policies across 14 Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries from 1990 to 2010 based on the welfare regime framework by Esping-Andersen.
This study uses aggregated indices to measure the overall direction of family policy change in three relevant issue areas: gender equality, work/family balance, and family income protection. Indices are widely used to create comparable measures of policy effort across countries, and this study builds on the previous research on family policy in a comparative context. In developing indices, several data sources are combined: The OECD Family Database (2012), the OECD Social Expenditure data (2012), and the Comparative Family Policy database by Gauthier (2011) and EC Childcare Network’s report (1996). I analyze policy trajectories for each country using these indices and identify patterns based on country characteristics according to the Esping-Andersen framework that identifies liberal, conservative, and social democratic welfare states.
This study finds distinctive family policy trends within countries as well as across welfare regime. While liberal welfare states have remained lowest in the efforts of gender equality and work/life balance, countries in this cluster have increased family income protection. Conservative welfare states have increased work/family balance and degendering efforts, but continue to promote traditional gender roles. Social democratic welfare states continue to pursue a dual-earner family policy model with a high degree of degendering, family income protection, and work and life balance efforts in family policies, but they have experienced a drop in family income protection efforts.
The study also finds heterogeneity among countries within liberal welfare states and conservative welfare states. France, Germany, and the Netherlands in conservative welfare states and UK in liberal welfare states have experienced increase on the work/life balance and the degendering index respectively.
Implications for practice or policy
Comparative studies on family policies provide an opportunity to learn how different countries resolve similar social issues. Given that social welfare policy shapes individual life chances and outcomes, it is important to understand the multi dimensions of family policies and trajectories of family policy change. This research allows us to grasp the contexts of child and family well being in different countries across welfare regimes and to make improvements to existing social welfare policies.