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Family Policy

Feminist Critiques Of Welfare Regimes

Feminist scholars, such as Ann Orloff (1993) and Diane Sainsbury (1996, 1999), generally accept the power resource theory. They argue, however, that the analysis of welfare state development by mainstream theorists such as Esping-Andersen has focused too much on men's activities, employment programs, and coalitions between governments and trade unions. They contend that women's groups, churches, and social reformers also contributed to the development of welfare states, especially to family-related programs (Ursel 1992; Pedersen 1993). By ignoring women's activities, those termed malestream theorists have misrepresented the history of social programs and created categorizations of social programs that are not always relevant to family policy. Feminist scholars argue that the power resource theory needs to be refined to incorporate the role of families and voluntary groups in providing for society. Also, women's unpaid caring work should not be ignored because it has upheld both labor market policies and social programs. Many researchers have noted large variations within Esping-Andersen's categories, especially for family policies.

Feminist scholars argue that women's access to benefits from social programs has been shaped more by assumptions about family roles and relationships than welfare regimes (Baker 1995; Lewis 1998; O'Connor, Orloff, and Shaver 1999). As wives and widows, women have often been eligible for relatively generous benefits through their husband's work-related entitlements (Sainsbury 1996). As lone mothers at home, women have been offered minimal support and subjected to moral scrutiny to ensure their eligibility. In contrast, men have typically received state benefits as breadwinners rather than fathers. Their work-related payments are often financed through social insurance and involve higher payments with less personal investigation. Increasingly, women employees are eligible for social insurance, but they receive lower benefits than men because payments are tied to their lower wages. Neither the liberal nor the corporatist welfare states has done much to help women as employees.

In contrast, social democratic countries have experienced some success in resolving conflicts between work and family for employed mothers and reducing family poverty. Social democratic countries have typically supported full employment for men and women and enforced pay equity, but they have also provided public childcare, parental benefits, and leave for family responsibilities to help parents integrate paid work and child-rearing. For example, Sweden has one of the lowest child poverty rates for lone parent families among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations, at 3 percent compared to about 53 percent in the United States and Australia (Baker and Tippin 1999, p. 22).

Many studies in family policy are based on historical research that indicates that state intervention has evolved over the years, but has been more intrusive for low-income families and mothers in liberal regimes. Social workers have been required to investigate the sexual circumstances and living conditions of lone mothers receiving social benefits, but such investigations would be considered an infringement of privacy for higher income families. The state has intervened most for visible minorities such as indigenous people, sometimes forcibly removing children from their families, placing them in residential schools, or encouraging adoption by white couples.

Although governments have granted more privacy to middle-class families, most researchers and social workers now agree that some aspects of family life should be considered public and of importance to governments. They argue that parents must be required (and helped) to support their children, and that the safety of children, women, and the elderly needs to be protected within the home. Laws must prevent siblings from reproducing together or fathers from raping their daughters. In addition, parents with dependent children (especially mothers) often require help to resolve the growing conflicts between employment and child raising.

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