Family Policy Matters: Responding to Family Change in Europe

Family Policy Matters: Responding to Family Change in Europe

Family Policy Matters: Responding to Family Change in Europe

Family Policy Matters: Responding to Family Change in Europe

Synopsis

Across Europe and beyond, changing family living arrangements have stimulated popular and academic debate about the impact of socio-demographic trends on family well-being and the challenges they present for governments. This path-breaking book explores the complex relationship between family change and public policy responses in EU member states and candidate countries. After comparing the major socio-economic changes of the late 20th century in Europe and their impact on family and working life, it analyses both the reactions of policy makers and users as they respond to change and the perceptions families have of public policy and its relative importance in their lives.

Excerpt

Across Europe and beyond, the close of the 20th century was marked by a surge of interest in the well being of families. This core institution was depicted in the media, and in political and academic debate, as a driving force for socio-economic change while also being a victim of it, in both instances presenting new challenges for governments.

Concepts, definitions, measurements and perceptions of family life, family policies and policies that impact on families are not constant over time or space. Historians, demographers, sociologists, political and moral philosophers, lawyers and politicians generally agree that family and household structure underwent far-reaching change in the course of the 20th century in European societies (for example Seccombe, 1993; Kumar, 1995; Fox Harding, 1996; Cheal, 1999; Coleman, 2000; Halsey, 2000). Whether the extent of change was greater than in previous eras, whether conjugal instability and high rates of family dissolution constitute the historical norm, or whether the married couple family headed by a male breadwinner, which peaked in the 1950s, represents a break in the continuity thesis are mote points that will continue to fuel debate for many years to come. Whatever the outcome of such deliberations, the early 21st century seems set to be distinguished by greater family diversity, increasingly endorsed by formal legal codes.

In western Europe, it is widely recognised that what came to be idealised in the middle of the last century as the traditional or conventional family no longer constitutes the only dominant family form or the principal normative environment in which children are born and reared. Few observers would argue that ‘the’ family has ceased to exist as a viable unit. The tentative answer to the question already being posed in the 1960s and 1970s (for example by Cooper, 1971) about the chances of ‘the’ family surviving the pressures it is facing may be that the concept is not destined to disappear in the foreseeable future. The prognosis is rather that family forms will continue to evolve, possibly in an ever more reflexive and self-conscious way, as the public at large and its elected representatives react to socio-

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