Academic journal article German Policy Studies

Farewell to the Family as We Know It: Family Policy Change in Germany

Academic journal article German Policy Studies

Farewell to the Family as We Know It: Family Policy Change in Germany

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

German unification merged two contrasting family models: the East German dual-worker model and the West German male breadwinner model. While socialist East Germany expected both mothers and fathers to work full-time, West German social policies were based on ideas of different but equal and complementary gender roles fostering the idea of male breadwinning and female home-based care for smaller children. East Germany had employed measures to increase the fertility rate and supported having children. In contrast, preunification Social Democrats, feminists and the Greens had for long strictly resisted any family policy that could have been interpreted as "pronatalist", while Christian Democrats, albeit troubled by the declining West German birth rate (since the 1970s among the lowest in the Western world), had pursued family policies that explicitly followed the line "neither NAZI nor GDR". In the course of unification-after the wall had come down in 1989-West German ideas and institutions were transferred to the East, including those which supported breadwinner marriages and part-time or non-employment of pre-school children's mothers. East German mothers' employment has remained higher than that of West German ones, yet, part-time employment and also non-employment of smaller children's mothers have been rising despite the plenty of public day care in the East (Ostner et al. 2004). Some analysts speak of a "re-traditionalization" of East German gender relations (BMFSFJ 2006). Family size shrank in post-unification East Germany, although childlessness is still significantly lower than in the West (Kreyenfeld and Konietzka 2007).

Since 2002, Germany has been essentially changing directions towards a third model cunningly dubbed "sustainable" family policy (Nachhaltige Familienpolitik) by policy-related experts (Rurup and Gruescu 2003). Previously, "sustainability" was only used in relation to "green" (environmental) issues, which up to the present have scored high on the (West) German people's agenda. In the meantime, proposals for new family policy measures have been issued and step by step put into force under the familiar heading of "sustainability". The new policy model conceives of children as society's future assets, seeks to encourage childbearing by supporting parents to be workers and attempts to reduce families' poverty by boosting mothers' employment. By increasing childcare facilities also of very small children, by developing "Sure Start" measures for children and families at risks and, generally, early childhood education (giving services rather than cash to families) sustainable family policy claims to invest in children, make up for social inequalities and generate correspondingly "sustainable" human capital. Promoting mothers' continuous employment and, more generally, the "dual-earner family" by "de-familializing families" and "(re)commodifying" mothers is said to add to children's resources and additionally raise birth-rates. Sustainable family policies appear to particularly tap resources of women and their (potential) offspring and, simply put, have turned into labor market policies. Once fully put into practice they will have altered the German family policy logic quite remarkably and also surprisingly, especially, the previous West German one which can be summarized as marriage-based "maternalism" (see Orloff 2006 for the recent use of the concept).

The new model appears to owe a lot to the activation paradigm developed in A Caring World (1999) by Willem Adema und Mark Pearson from the OECD: "The new social policy agenda is how to achieve social solidarity through enabling individuals and families to support themselves ..." (ibid.: 4); also to the "child-centered social investment strategy" publicized by sociologist and EU policy-adviser Esping-Andersen in Why we need a New Welfare State (2002). New research exists on the active roles and moral authority of the OECD and the EU Directorate for Employment, Labor and Social Affairs (DELSA) in framing the work/family reconciliation agenda respectively the need for early childhood education (Mahon 2006) (Both agendas are also cornerstones of the recent German family policy reshuffle). …

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