Re-Framing of Childcare in Germany and England: From a Private Responsibility to an Economic Necessity

By Ruling, Anneli | German Policy Studies, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Re-Framing of Childcare in Germany and England: From a Private Responsibility to an Economic Necessity


Ruling, Anneli, German Policy Studies


1 Introduction

Like most post-industrial welfare states, England and Germany increasingly face similar challenges that can be described as a sectoral shift from production to services, an aging population and a changing household structure (Esping-Andersen 1999; Pierson 2001). These challenges--among others--have been caused by growing labor participation of women and changing gender roles, which result in an increasing need for care services for the elderly and for children. These services, which in the past were mostly unpaid caring work provided by women in the household, increasingly need to be 'externalized' (Esping-Andersen 2006) and are consequently either taken over by the welfare state or organized through the market.

Both West Germany and England had a traditionally low public involvement in early childhood education and care. In the conservative welfare state of Germany with a strong male-breadwinner model (Lewis and Ostner 1994), care for young children was considered the responsibility of mothers. Similarly, in the liberal English welfare state, intervention in the family was traditionally low except in cases of child neglect or abuse. However, both countries have experienced dramatic reforms in the last 10 years in relation to childcare: The first step was the introduction of public childcare for pre-school children (aged 3-6 in Germany and 3-5 in England) throughout the 1990s in both countries (Evers et al. 2005). The second step was the expansion of early childhood education and care for children under 3 years of age.

This paper analyzes this 'second step' of the expansion of childcare for children under the age of three since it is the more recent and--culturally--more contested reform. As it will be shown, in both countries the shifts in the meaning of childcare that occurred with the introduction of care for children under three marked significant discontinuities with their institutional and cultural paths (Ruling 2008). The gender and family models embedded within welfare policy can be understood as policy paradigms (Bacchi 1999). The observed changes challenge the underlying norms on gender relations and the upbringing of children, that are deeply rooted in the cultural understanding of the welfare state. How could these changes be explained?

Interestingly, when analyzing these recent reforms in the extension of childcare, the main theories that explain policy development fail.

* First, from an institutional perspective, a stronger path dependency would have been expected (Pierson 2001). Public responsibility for the care of infants and young children constitutes a novelty in both countries and breaks away from a policy of non-state intervention in this field.

* Second, from a theory of gender welfare analysis, which would also hint at stability rather than change, these changes in policies and institutions also signify at least a partial modification of the underlying family norms and gender ideologies (Daly 2000; Lewis 2004), as well as of the cultural understanding of childhood and education in both countries (Pfau-Effinger 2000; Kremer 2005).

* Third, the rapid expansion of family policy coincides with the return of social democracy into office in both countries. Consequently, a theoretical perspective that 'parties matter' (Seeleib-Kaiser 2003) could be considered as a theoretical frame for this analysis. However, since in both countries childcare for children under three was introduced only in a subsequent term of office (the second in Germany and third in England), it cannot be considered one of the top priorities of either of the social democratic parties in charge. Later on, the childcare agenda was also adopted by the conservative parties in Germany and England indicating a more sustainable and thorough policy change.

* Furthermore, from a theoretical perspective on power structures, it would be difficult to explain how childcare entered the political agenda in the first place. …

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