Eriikka Oinonen
Nations' Different Families? Contrasting Comparison of Finnish and Spanish 'Ideological Families'

Mannheimer Zentrum für Europäische Sozialforschung: Arbeitspapiere; 15
ISSN: 1437-8574

Northern and Southern welfare states form different families of nations, and it is claimed that the families typical of each nation are profoundly different. Family structure in Northern nations is described as modern and deinstitutionalised, whereas the Southern family structure is traditional and institutionalised. The stereotypical notions also indicate that the family ideology is modern in the North and traditional in the South. This paper questions these stereotypical notions and their validity by formulating and analysing Finnish and Spanish cases as representatives of Northern and Southern families. The cases are built of sets of laws and policies which are directly targeted at families, family formation and family life. Laws and policies are treated as representative of family ideological discourses and analysed from a contrasting comparative perspective based on the understanding that discovering similarities helps to place differences in proper perspective. As the focus is on ideologies and because ideologies are historical, social and cultural creations, the historical time span reaches from the early 20th century to the present day, although the stress is on the past few decades. Out of this context I bring up dichotomies that are behind the stereotypical notions of Finnish and Spanish ideological families. By deconstructing these dichotomies I claim that the differences between Finnish (Northern) and Spanish (Southern) families are exaggerated and oversimplified due to the fact that most comparative family studies are based only on quantitative data and methods, and concentrate on differences, thus producing unidimensional comparisons. I conclude that Finnish and Spanish families are different, though not so radically different as usually claimed. Fundamentally the family ideologies are the same, the ideological foundation of each nation's families is the same and the evolution of family ideologies has moved in the same direction. Thus Finnish and Spanish families are simultaneously modern and traditional, individual and collective, secular and religious, public and private. The ways these qualities have been shaped and the reasons for it lie in historical, social and political developments.