Western Welfare in Decline: Globalization and Women's Poverty

Western Welfare in Decline: Globalization and Women's Poverty

Western Welfare in Decline: Globalization and Women's Poverty

Western Welfare in Decline: Globalization and Women's Poverty


The feminization of poverty is increasingly recognized as a global phenomenon, affecting women not only in third world countries but also in the West. Taking globalization as its starting point, Western Welfare in Decline explores the plight of poor single mothers in five English-speaking nations that have implemented welfare restructuring: the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, and Aotearoa/New Zealand. This restructuring is analyzed in relation to the emergence of neoliberalism, which valorizes the free market, individualism, and a circumscribed role for the state.

Contributors to Western Welfare in Decline creatively combine theoretical and empirical analysis, emphasizing the economic and social goals of welfare reforms and the discourses of labor, gendered subjectivity, and the separation of public and private spheres. They document how the neoliberal project of welfare reform interacts with local cultures to create both similar and divergent new cultural formations and identify opportunities for asserting the social rights of poor single mothers who are being denied these rights at the level of the nation-state.


Catherine Kingfisher

The 1992 World Bank Report argued that “Women must not be regarded as mere recipients of public support. They are, first and foremost, economic agents” (IBRD 1992:60). This claim captures a key discursive shift in the currently unfolding transformation from Keynesian and developmental to neoliberal forms of governance. in this transformation, which is witnessing exponential growth in the feminization of poverty, low-income and poor women in both developed and developing countries are being reconstituted in new political discourses and practices as already or potentially able-bodied workers and entrepreneurs, while other identities, in particular, those of mother and dependent housewife, take on increasingly negative salience. While skyrocketing poverty rates among women in the South can be said to result from structural adjustment programs initiated by external agents such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, similar increases in poverty rates among women in advanced welfare state societies may be interpreted in relation to an analogous, internally initiated restructuring, usually entailing cuts in social provisioning. in both cases, public services are put under threat, and in both cases it is poor women who disproportionately shoulder the burden of service reductions while they struggle to fill in the gaps left by a retreating state. These parallels may in turn be situated in the larger context of the global spread of neoliberal approaches to economic, social, and state organization.

Although situated in the context of a global feminization of poverty, the focus of this book is on restructuring and women’s poverty in western welfare states, with particular emphasis on the situation of poor single mothers. While there is a significant literature on poverty, gender, and structural adjustment in the Third World (e.g., Afshar and Dennis 1992; Beneria and Feldman 1992; Elson 1995; Thomas-Emeagwali 1995), only . . .

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