From Cornell International Affairs Review VOL. 10 NO. 1
Child Care Policy and Female Labor Force Participation: A Comparison of Germany and Sweden
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.
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.
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