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Family Policy

Welfare State Development

From the 1940s to the 1970s, governments in industrialized countries developed a broad range of social programs to guarantee citizens and their families at least a minimal level of income in the event of unemployment, accidents, sickness, pregnancy, childbirth, disability, and retirement. The development of the welfare state was based on the assumption that governments (as well as employers, employees, and community groups) have a role to play in maintaining income security and well-being. Welfare states were also premised on the idea that governments should assist families at certain stages of life (such as childbirth and retirement) or during family crises (such as marital breakdown or disciplinary problems with children) (Baker and Tippin 1999).

Much of the theorizing and research about social policy relates to the development of welfare states. Postwar prosperity enabled many nations to establish or expand their social programs, although some created more generous programs than others. During the 1960s, many people expected welfare states to eliminate hunger and poverty, reinforce the social value of child rearing, and reward a lifetime of paid work or care giving. Yet widespread poverty and inequality continued to exist while government social expenditures increased throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The political consensus that supported generous social benefits in the 1960s began to fracture by the 1980s, especially in the English-speaking countries. Growing unemployment, marital instability, and an aging population increased the demand for social benefits. Conservative politicians and taxpayers, however, argued that the welfare state was ineffective and costly and would be unable to sustain itself financially.

Advocates of the welfare state have argued that social programs have prevented family poverty from worsening with declining job security and more lone mother families. Critics on the political left sometimes claim that welfare states have been less effective than they could be because most were designed to promote neither class equality nor gender equity. Instead, welfare states were often intended to supplement family income or prevent widespread hunger, which governments hoped would stave off social unrest. Critics from the political right argue that government benefits have enabled people to avoid paid work and family responsibilities, and that people should not be eligible for public benefits before they have first exhausted family resources. Debates continue about whether the state should try harder to assist families or whether families should be expected to show more responsibility for their own welfare.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesFamily Policy - Welfare State Development, Welfare Regimes, Feminist Critiques Of Welfare Regimes, Demographic Trends And Family Policy