Child Care Policy and Female Labor Force Participation: A Comparison of Germany and Sweden

By Analia Cuevas-Ferreras
Cornell International Affairs Review
2016, Vol. 10 No. 1 | pg. 2/2 |

Implications for Gender Equality and Female Choice

Some would argue that these findings regarding the male-breadwinner and egalitarian social contract have an almost obvious general applicability to the principles of gender equality. Caroline Weinkopf, for example, argues that "despite an increasing female participation rate, gender inequality in terms of working time and hourly pay, for instance, is still very pronounced" in Germany.37 Conversely, many would regard Sweden as a pillar of gender equality, often alluding to their commitment to gender equality is visible in a plethora of ways. From paid paternity leave to the fact that "cleaning products rarely feature women as homemakers," the effort to avoid relegating women to the private sphere runs deep in Sweden.38 However, others may see the Swedish emphasis on the ‘right to work' as limiting female choice. Ingela Neumann makes a noteworthy argument when pointing out that "German feminist politics does not fit with the assumptions about women's interests underlying most feminist research on welfare states."39 For some women, being relieved of family duties cannot necessarily be paralleled to gender equality, as many women feel that staying home with their children is the best option for their child and/or they enjoy taking care of their children. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, "fewer than half of German women want to see a change in the prevalent division of gender roles."40 This raises an interesting dilemma: Do current day-care and child rearing policies reflect German women's wishes? If not, are efforts aimed at fostering gender equality and fomenting FLFP justified?

In this essay, I do seek not to pass moral judgment on which social contract is morally correct or on what type of early care is best for the development of children, but merely to lay out the differences between systems and consider how those differences affect women's entry into the labor market. Some may believe that public childcare is the best option for children to develop strong social skills while others maintain that state interference in childcare can negatively impact the bonds between children and their parents. However, one aspect that often goes undisputed in discussions regarding gender equality is the importance of choice. One might argue if German women were actually deeply interested in joining the labor force, they could do so within the parameters of choice that Angela Merkel and German politicians describe. In the case of Germany, it is possible that "up to a specific level of employment, women can do without official alternatives," meaning that women are able to seek childcare beyond government provisions.41 However, Monique Kramer finds that beyond these lower levels "a critical level state intervention is necessary and can then even act as a catalyst" for female employment, thus arguing that "a new ideal of care has to replace the old full-time mother care model."42 Ultimately, state intervention and provision might be necessary in order to give women an actual unencumbered choice to work.

Conclusion

The main premise of this paper is that a state's welfare regime identity impacts the way they view the gender contract, which in turn influences government policy, leading to varied outcomes (in this case affecting FLFP). I argue that the Conservative Welfare designation of the social contract under a male breadwinner and female housewife model led Germany to employ policies discouraging FLFP. Conversely, the Social Democratic Welfare regime's definition of the social contract as a relationship where both parties are equal contributors to society led Sweden to shape policies towards the encouragement of female entry to the labor market. A comprehensive analysis of three aspects of childcare policy reveals that both states have largely invested in upholding two very different social contracts, ultimately contributing to differences in German and Swedish FLFP illustrated in Figure 4. In Germany, public spending, government policies and political rhetoric were overwhelmingly in support of a male-breadwinner female-housewife social contract while in Sweden, all three aspects sought to uphold an egalitarian contract of equality between men and women. Ultimately, Esping-Andersen's typology can be used to explain differences in Welfare Regime notions of the gender contract and to explain variances across labor markets within Coordinated Market Economies.


References

Barysch, Katinka. "Why Do so Few German Mothers Go back to Work?" World Economic Forum. Accessed April 4, 2016. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2014/04/german-women-feel-need-choose-kids-career

Bennhold, Katrin. "In Sweden, Men Can Have It All." The New York Times, June 9, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/world/europe/10iht-sweden.html

Bremberg, Sven. "A Perfect 10: Why Sweden Comes out on Top in Early Child Development Programming." Paediatrics & Child Health 14, no. 10 (December 2009): 677–80.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, International labor force participation rates for women, 2011 on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2012/ted_20120907.htm (visited April 05, 2016).

"Child and Family Tax Benefits in Germany." Accessed April 3, 2016. http://www.tulane.edu/~rouxbee/soci626/germany/_pbaliga/childfamilytaxbenefits.htm

Esping-Andersen, Gøsta. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1990.

"Fighting over the Kinder." The Economist, August 17, 2013. http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21583676-cr-ches-trump-euro-and-much-elsegermanelection-campaign-fighting-over-kinder

"Germany: A Modern Family Policy for a Compatible Partnership of Family and Career and for Economically Stable Families European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC) European Union." European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC) European Union. Accessed March 30, 2016. http://europa.eu/epic/countries/germany/index_en.htm

Hall, Peter A., and Soskice, eds. "An Introduction to Varities of Capitalism." In Varieties of Capitalism, 1–68. Oxford University Press. Accessed March 31, 2016. http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~phall/VofCIntro.pdf

Heery, Edmund, and Mike Noon. A Dictionary of Human Resource Management. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2008. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199298761.001.0001/acref-9780199298761

Heine and Speigel, Fiederike. "Germany Promises Daycare for All Parents." ABC News, August 4, 2013. http://abcnews.go.com/International/place-germanypromises-daycare-parents/story?id=19847116

International Labour Office (ILO). 2013. ILOSTAT Database (Geneva).

"Interview: Ambassador Anne Höglund of Sweden | SwedenAbroad." Accessed April 4, 2016. http://www.swedenabroad.com/en-GB/Embassies/Seoul/Current-affairs/News/Interview-Ambassador-Anne-Hoglund-of-SwedenGender-Equality-Needs-No-Arguments---The-Womens-News-sys/

Kremer, Monique. How Welfare States Care : Culture, Gender and Parenting in Europe. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2007. http://dare.uva.nl/aup/nl/record/216794

"Labour Market Definition." The Economic Times. Accessed April 1, 2016. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/definition/labour-market

Malm, Sara. "Germany to Pay Stay-at-Home Parents Extra Benefits for Keeping Toddlers out of State Daycare." Dailymail. Accessed April 4, 2016. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2190259/Germany-pay-stayhomeparents-extra-benefits-keeping-toddlers-state-daycare.html

Naumann, Ingela K. "Child Care and Feminism in West Germany and Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s." Journal of European Social Policy 15, no. 1 (February 1, 2005): 47–63. doi:10.1177/0958928705049162.

"Pay to Stay at Home." The Economist, May 5, 2012. http://www.economist.com/node/21554245

"PF1.1: Public Spending on Family Benefits." OECD, September 19, 2014. http://www.oecd.org/els/soc/PF1_1_Public_spending_on_family_benefits_Oct2013.pdf

Schmid, Gunther. Full Employment in Europe: Managing Labour Market Transitions and Risks. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2008.

"Speech by Minister Åsa Regnér at Commission on the Status of Women 2016." Text. Regeringskansliet, March 16, 2016. http://www.government.se/ speeches/2016/03/speech-by-asa-regner-at-commission-on-the-status-ofwomen2016/

Weinkopf, Claudia. "Women's Employment in Germany." Revue de l'OFCE, no. 133 (March 1, 2014): 189–214.


Endnotes

  1. Analia Cuevas-Ferreras is a senior at Yale University majoring in Political Science with an emphasis on International Relations. Her current research examines the rise and influence of the far right in Europe.
  2. "Labour Market Definition," The Economic Times, accessed April 1, 2016, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/definition/labour-market.
  3. Peter A. Hall and Soskice, eds., "An Introduction to Varieties of Capitalism," in Varieties of Capitalism (Oxford University Press), 1–68, accessed March 31, 2016, http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~phall/VofCIntro.pdf.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Edmund Heery and Mike Noon, A Dictionary of Human Resource Management, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2008), http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199298761.001.0001/acref-9780199298761.
  6. Gøsta Esping-Andersen, The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1990).
  7. For the purposes of this essay, I will only describe Conservative and Social Democratic regimes as they relate to the social contract between the family and the social contract between men and women.
  8. Gunther Schmid, Full Employment in Europe: Managing Labour Market Transitions and Risks (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2008).
  9. Ibid., 77.
  10. Ibid.
  11. "PF1.1: Public Spending on Family Benefits" (OECD, September 19, 2014), http://www.oecd.org/els/soc/PF1_1_Public_spending_on_family_benefits_Oct2013.pdf.
  12. "Child and Family Tax Benefits in Germany," accessed April 3, 2016, http://www.tulane.edu/~rouxbee/soci626/germany/_pbaliga/childfamilytaxbenefits.htm.
  13. Ingela K. Naumann, "Child Care and Feminism in West Germany and Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s," Journal of European Social Policy 15, no. 1 (February 1, 2005): 47–63, doi:10.1177/0958928705049162.
  14. Claudia Weinkopf, "Women's Employment in Germany," Revue de l'OFCE, no. 133 (March 1, 2014): 189–214.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Naumann, "Child Care and Feminism in West Germany and Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s".
  17. Katrin Bennhold, "In Sweden, Men Can Have It All," The New York Times, June 9, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/world/europe/10iht-sweden.html. Governments of all political hues in Sweden have legislated to give women equal rights at work — and men equal rights at home.
  18. Naumann, "Child Care and Feminism in West Germany and Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s".
  19. Sven Bremberg, "A Perfect 10: Why Sweden Comes out on Top in Early Child Development Programming," Paediatrics & Child Health 14, no. 10 (December 2009): 677– 80.Crisis in the Population Question, Alva and Gunnar Myrdal outlined many of the features that were later assessed by the United Nations Children's Fund. Three aspects may have affected the implementation of Myrdal's ideas. First, the Social Democratic Party has been in power for 85% of the time since 1932. They often had to form coalitions with other parties that supported a nonpartisan stance. Second, according to evidence from the World Values Survey, Swedes are more individualistic than people in any of the other 64 societies included in that study. The State is expected to create social conditions on equal terms for individuals to realize their own goals. Finally, schools and other social services are managed by 290 semi-independent municipalities. Thus, reforms can be tested in a few municipalities before others follow suit".
  20. Ibid.Crisis in the Population Question, Alva and Gunnar Myrdal outlined many of the features that were later assessed by the United Nations Children's Fund. Three aspects may have affected the implementation of Myrdal's ideas. First, the Social Democratic Party has been in power for 85% of the time since 1932. They often had to form coalitions with other parties that supported a nonpartisan stance. Second, according to evidence from the World Values Survey, Swedes are more individualistic than people in any of the other 64 societies included in that study. The State is expected to create social conditions on equal terms for individuals to realize their own goals. Finally, schools and other social services are managed by 290 semi-independent municipalities. Thus, reforms can be tested in a few municipalities before others follow suit.
  21. Naumann, "Child Care and Feminism in West Germany and Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s".
  22. Ibid.
  23. "Fighting over the Kinder," The Economist, August 17, 2013, http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21583676-cr-ches-trump-euro-and-much-else-german-election-campaign-fightingoverkinder.
  24. Naumann, "Child Care and Feminism in West Germany and Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s".
  25. "Pay to Stay at Home," The Economist, May 5, 2012, http://www.economist.com/node/21554245.
  26. Sara Malm, "Germany to Pay Stay-at-Home Parents Extra Benefits for Keeping Toddlers out of State Daycare," Dailymail, accessed April 4, 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2190259/Germany-pay-stay-home-parents-extra-benefits-keeping-toddlers-state-daycare.html.
  27. "Fighting over the Kinder".
  28. "Pay to Stay at Home".
  29. "Interview: Ambassador Anne Höglund of Sweden | SwedenAbroad," accessed April 4, 2016, http://www.swedenabroad.com/en-GB/Embassies/Seoul/Current-affairs/News/InterviewAmbassador-Anne-Hoglund-of-Sweden-Gender-Equality-Needs-No-Arguments---The-WomensNews-sys/.
  30. Ibid.
  31. "Speech by Minister Åsa Regnér at Commission on the Status of Women 2016," Text, Regeringskansliet, (March 16, 2016), http://www.government.se/speeches/2016/03/speech-byasaregner-at-commission-on-the-status-of-women-2016/.
  32. "Fighting over the Kinder".
  33. Weinkopf, "Women's Employment in Germany".
  34. Fiederike Heine and Speigel, "Germany Promises Daycare for All Parents," ABC News, August 4, 2013, http://abcnews.go.com/International/place-germany-promises-daycareparents/story?id=19847116.
  35. "Fighting over the Kinder".
  36. "Germany: A Modern Family Policy for a Compatible Partnership of Family and Career and for Economically Stable Families European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC) European Union" (European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC) European Union), accessed March 30, 2016, http://europa.eu/epic/countries/germany/index_en.htm.
  37. Weinkopf, "Women's Employment in Germany".
  38. Bennhold, "In Sweden, Men Can Have It All."governments of all political hues in Sweden have legislated to give women equal rights at work — and men equal rights at home." http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/world/europe/10iht-sweden.
  39. Naumann, "Child Care and Feminism in West Germany and Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s".
  40. Katinka Barysch, "Why Do so Few German Mothers Go back to Work?," World Economic Forum, accessed April 4, 2016, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2014/04/german-womenfeelneed-choose-kids-career.
  41. Monique Kremer, How Welfare States Care : Culture, Gender and Parenting in Europe (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2007), http://dare.uva.nl/aup/nl/record/216794.
  42. Ibid.

Appendix

Figure 1

Figure 1. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Figure 2

Figure 2. Source: OECD Family Database – PF1.1 Public Spending on Family Benefits.

Figure 3

Figure 3. Source: OECD Family Database – PF1.1 Public Spending on Family Benefits.

Figure 4

Figure 4. Source: ILOSTAT European Labor Force Survey.

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