Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Two Worlds of Father Politics in the Republic of Ireland: Swedish versus American Influences

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Two Worlds of Father Politics in the Republic of Ireland: Swedish versus American Influences

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The social politics of fatherhood have gained increasing attention in comparative family studies. However, welfare state variations in the social politics of fatherhood remain a relatively under researched topic. Early studies on the transformation of men's family relations raised concerns about the declining significance of male-breadwinning fatherhood for children's educational and financial supports in European welfare states (Björnberg & Kollind, 1996). Later analysis of the rights and responsibilities of fatherhood in the United States of America (USA) and selected European countries was based on a comparative typology of 'policy regimes and fatherhood regimes' (Hobson & Morgan, 2002). Not surprisingly, from a comparative welfare state perspective, early studies of fatherhood were shaped by analysis of national variations in the balance between individual roles or responsibilities and universal or selective entitlements. This examination contributes to emerging knowledge of welfare state variations in the social politics of fatherhood by contrasting Sweden to the USA as influential archetypes. These two nations represent the 'two worlds' of father politics. This comparative analytical framework of a 'two worlds' model contrasts Swedish and American influences on the contemporary politicisation of fatherhood in Ireland through analysis of a succession of government-level reports. These reports published during the decade 19962006 dealt with (a) family support, (b) the Constitutional status quo and (c) reform of the One Parent Family (OPF) payment.

From the 1970s to the 1990s Ireland became more open to egalitarian Swedish influences on social questions concerning child welfare and families through an exponential ulerease of European Union emphasis on gender equality. During the same period, fatherhood was never addressed as a serious concern of Irish social policy. As late as 1998 a parliamentary proposal to establish a Commission on the Status of Men was rejected (Hearn, 2005). However, this investigation uncovered evidence of an important shift. From the late 1990's fatherhood gained greater significance as illustrated in government reports concerning child maintenance, 'vulnerable' fatherhood and the Constitutional status of married and non-married fathers. Further, contemporary Irish social policy perspectives on fatherhood have been much more open to the influence of USA welfare ideologies and father politics, rather than Swedish perspectives. The evidence gathered and reviewed indicates that the contemporary politicization of fatherhood has involved a largely residual role for the Irish welfare state. Family support initiatives in Ireland have been selective and targeted in particular at 'vulnerable' fathers without any serious consideration of the Swedish experience, which is distinguished by an "immediate and long-term connection to government policies" aimed at the universal promotion of parental settlements based on 'dual-earner and dual-carer' models of childrearing (Klinth, 2008, p.20).

Fathers and Social Policy: Comparative Perspectives

Early comparative studies of fatherhood emphasized global perspectives or what might alternatively be termed convergence perspectives on fatherhood shaped in the main by research output from the USA (Russell, 2001). On the other hand, the primary emphasis here is on welfare state variations in the social politics of fatherhood and the divergent influences of American and Swedish perspectives. The concept of the 'two worlds' of father politics presented here builds on G0sta Esping-Andersen's typology from The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (1990). This seminal approach to welfare state typology combined political science with political economy to identify three dominant 'models' or 'regimes' of welfare capitalism. Welfare effort was measured using the concept of de-commodification; that is, the extent to which welfare systems compensate for the labour market dependency of paid employees or in welfare terms, 'commodified workers' . …

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