Women as Wives, Mothers or Workers: How Welfare Eligibility Requirements Influence Women's Labor Force Participation-A Case Study of Spain-

By Warnecke, Tonia L. | Journal of Economic Issues, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Women as Wives, Mothers or Workers: How Welfare Eligibility Requirements Influence Women's Labor Force Participation-A Case Study of Spain-


Warnecke, Tonia L., Journal of Economic Issues


For the last few decades, social policy practitioners and economists have waged a continual, open debate about the amount of responsibility a state can and should have with regard to welfare provision. This debate was largely provoked by the global economic crisis of the late 1970s, which challenged the idea of an active welfare state. High levels of government involvement in social welfare provision were tied to Keynesian support for full employment, which was accepted (more or less) throughout most of the industrial West between 1950 and 1975. After this, however, rampant inflation, unemployment, and slow growth challenged the viability and indeed the utility of government-sponsored social welfare. The policy responses of different states were determined not only by their particular political and economic circumstances, but also by their historical, cultural and ideological backgrounds. Some countries opted for social welfare maintenance while others chose some type of retrenchment (Mishra 1990, 2).

Although social welfare is a commonly discussed topic, it can have many different meanings depending on the focus of analysis. In general, though, welfare refers to socioeconomic wellbeing. This is correlated with 'the basic level of economic development, of course, but focuses more specifically on a variety of goods and services believed to be essential for individual and social happiness and security (such as health care, housing, social insurance, other employment-related benefits, and additional forms of social assistance). Together, the institutions and policies supporting these types of goods and services form a welfare state regime. The welfare state defends and supports the development of social rights, aiming "to make civil rights actually work ... removing the barriers that blocked the full and equal exercise of civil and political rights" (Bussemaker and van Kersbergen 1999, 10).

Standard welfare state analysis classifies advanced Western countries according to regime type. Past analyses have tended to treat the Southern European countries of Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece in one of two ways: either bundling them together with continental European nations such as France and Germany, or excluding them altogether. However, the countries of Southern Europe exhibit very different characteristics from those in continental Europe (Del Boca, Pasqua and Pronzato 2003; Rydell 2003; Flaquer 2000). In contrast to continental Europe, Southern European nations witness a combination of low fertility levels and low levels of female employment; the labor market structures are more rigid and unemployment is higher; part-time work options are limited (for both men and women); the welfare system is heavily based on family networks rather than state provision; and it remains very difficult for women to combine market work and family responsibilities. These considerable differences suggest that standard welfare regime typologies cannot accurately portray welfare systems in Southern Europe, especially as they relate to women's employment. An important reason for this is that standard typologies do not sufficiently incorporate a gender component of analysis. In order to explain why Spanish female labor force participation is so low, it is necessary to take a multidimensional view of decommodification (the degree to which individuals, or families, can uphold a socially acceptable standard of living independently of market participation). In so doing, it becomes clear that the eligibility requirements for various social benefits are tied to women's roles as wife, mother or worker. The Spanish case study reveals that social policies in Spain tend to privilege the wife and mother roles for women--not the worker role--and this can help to explain the comparatively low labor force participation rate for women in that country. As such, this case study provides an interesting and important contribution to the literature of welfare state analysis.

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