Family Life and Family Policies in Europe - Vol. 1

Family Life and Family Policies in Europe - Vol. 1

Family Life and Family Policies in Europe - Vol. 1

Family Life and Family Policies in Europe - Vol. 1


There is widespread evidence that the family has undergone profound social changes in the past decades. However, the interpretations of these changes remain diverse and inconsistent, particularly when it comes to international comparative research. This reinterpretation of the empirical evidence has grown from the co-operation of researchers from ten European countries. It overcomes the limitations of international demographic statistics by using sample surveys and the available register data in order to study the interaction of political, economic, and demographic factors in the changing forms of private lives during the 1980s. The standardized framework connects the macro perspective of national policy peculiarities with the micro perspective of an analysis of the changing living arrangements of two cohorts of women--those starting families and those whose children are leaving home. Thus, the book provides new interdisciplinary insights into country-specific information and tools for specific thematic comparisons. The evidence presented in this study reveals strong and persistent between-nation differences in the ways people adapt their lives, and the choices they have to make between work and family life, to changing circumstances. Confronted with national cultural and political attitudes, as well as differences in institutional designs concerning the family, these differences between nations in the priorities of various forms of family life are explained as the reactions of rational actors to various normative orientations and institutional opportunities.


Klaus Peter Strohmeier and Anton Kuijsten Ruhr-Universität, Bochum, Germany, and University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

1.1. Introduction

'Individualization' is a term commonly used in the current sociological literature to denote the new 'horizontal' inequalities in modern society, i.e. differentiations in terms of the organization of private life and of 'life-style'. in a stricter scientific use of the concept, it means the emancipation of the individual life course from traditional determining influences of factors such as gender or social and regional origin. It implies an increasing possibility for everyone to lead his or her 'own life'. Individualization in that sense has reached women only after some delay, and it operates along cohort lines, with stronger effects on the younger generations. in this process there is an observable increase in the variation of significant life events over the life course, e.g. marriage or the birth of the first child, with respect to both their timing and their incidence. the resulting increase of the individual's degrees of freedom to choose between distinct biographic options has, on the whole, transformed the status of the family from a self-evident institution in a 'normal' adult's life to a matter of (more or less rational) individual choice. Consequently, in all ten of the countries of Europe on which this volume reports, we have observed a 'pluralization' of life-styles and of the structural forms of private life as an aggregation of such individualized lives. in most of the countries in Europe, the traditional forms of family life have begun to lose out to other family types and in particular to the non-family forms of private life, temporarily or even permanently excluding children.

These trends are a challenge to family policies which, in a broader European framework, are having to take into consideration the need to support an increasing variety of family forms. the international comparative study on Familiale Lebensformen, Lebenslagen und Familienalltag im internationalen Vergleich (Family Life and Family Policies in Europe) has studied . . .

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