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Family changes and family policies in the Western World

by Thomas Bahle

An International Research Project

The project studies family changes and family policies in twenty Western countries since World War II in a long-term perspective, although focusing on the period since the 1960s. The studies include most Western European countries, Poland and Hungary, Canada, the United States of America and New Zealand. The project has grown out of recognition of the increased interest in systematic and comparative research and the lack of comprehensive and comparative studies based on a set of standardised data. The special gap this project fills is that of describing and analysing the „big“, macro picture of family change and family policies, placing these developments in historical as well as comparative perspective.

Variations in Western countries are being studied comprehensively, drawing on expertise in demography, family sociology, political science, economics, family law, social policy and family policy. The project studies general trends and national developments in family formation, family structure and family functions as well as family-related trends with regard to (female) employment, household income, and expenditure patterns. It examines policy responses, such as child care policies, parenting policies, family allowances, and other family cash and tax benefits. It will also look on family and child-related aspects of social security and the welfare state in general. The broader context of main economic and social trends and of politics are also part of each country’s analysis.

Standardised country reports and comparative studies are produced by the project members. They will be published in seven volumes at Oxford University Press in 1996 and 1997. Five volumes with twenty country reports focus on country specific developments. They analyse the patterns of national family policy regarding family structure, the economy and the labour market, and the welfare state. The main purposes are, first, to give a comprehensive empirical description of developments, and, second, to draw an analytic „profile“ of national family policy that could be caused by broader structural and institutional characteristics of the society, such as social and political cleavages, value patterns and attitudes, economic and labour market structures, and the institutional foundations of the welfare state.

The first comparative volume focuses on family changes, including chapters on the institutional formation of the family as expressed in family law, and on the relationship between the family and employment. The second comparative volume focuses on family policies, including chapters on comparisons of single programmes and measures and an analysis of policy „packages“ and of the different types or „régimes“ of family policy. The comparative studies are mainly based on the country reports and systematic data files.

A data file on family policies and family-related social policies is being set up at the MZES while the project is still in progress. This is done in close cooperation with EURODATA, where a number of related data files exist, e.g. on demography, family and household structures, employment, national economic accounts, and social expenditures. One major purpose of these data files is to provide a basis for systematic comparative and historical analyses. The data files will not only serve the purposes of the current project, but will be updated regularly after the project will have been concluded. They will be open to further analyses.

The project is directed by Peter Flora (MZES, University of Mannheim), Sheila Kamerman and Alfred Kahn (Columbia University School of Social Work, New York). It started in 1993 and will be concluded in 1997/1998. The MZES is the site of coordination. Thomas Bahle is the executive coordinator. The project is financed from various national sources. The coordination at the MZES is financed by the German Science Foundation.

At present, twenty country research teams participate in the project. The teams are set up by the following principal researchers: Austria (Gerda Neyer, Institute of Demography at the Austrian Academy of Sciences), Belgium (Peter Flora), Canada (Maureen Baker, Montreal), Denmark (Vita Pruzan, Danish National Institute of Social Research), Finland (Matti Alestalo, Tampere), France (Christoph Starzec, INSEE, Paris), Germany (Thomas Bahle and Franz Rothenbacher, MZES), Greece (Laura Alipranti, National Centre of Social Research, Athens), Hungary (Rudolf Andorka, Budapest), Italy (Chiara Saraceno, Torino), Netherlands (Anton Kuijsten, Amsterdam), New Zealand (Ian Pool, Population Studies Centre, Hamilton), Norway (Jon Eivind Kolberg, Institute of Applied Social Research, Oslo), Poland (Stanislawa Golinowska, Institute of Labour and Social Sciences, Warsaw), Spain (Lluis Flaquer, Barcelona), Sweden (Ulla Björnberg, Göteborg), Switzerland (Beat Fux, Zurich and Mannheim), United Kingdom (Stein Ringen, Oxford), United States of America (Sheila Kamerman and Alfred Kahn).

For more information please contact:

Thomas Bahle
Tel. +49-621-2921706
Fax +49-621-2928435

EURODATA Newsletter No.2, p.18