4th Annual FamiliesAndSocieties Stakeholder Seminar
What are the current trends in social policies related to families in Europe? What are the most important areas for future policy interventions? Are there best practices to be followed? These were the main questions discussed at the fourth FamiliesAndSocieties Stakeholder Seminar in Brussels. The event was chaired by Gerda Neyer (Associate Professor at Stockholm University) and Livia Sz. Oláh (Associate Professor at Stockholm University and Project Coordinator of FamiliesAndSocieties). Speakers and panellists focused on crucial policy issues related to child care arrangements, youth and gender equality, and explored the role of policies with respect to family and life-course developments.
The event started with a welcome statement by Ms Marita Ulvskog, Member of the European Parliament, followed by an introductory overview of the FamiliesAndSocieties project by Livia Sz. Oláh, Project Coordinator.
Policies should benefit all family forms equally
Brando Benifei, Member of the European Parliament, provided the Seminar keynote. Mr Benifei highlighted the importance of sharing information on best practices and having access to updated data as fundamental instruments to stimulate a broader, democratic debate on family policies, on where we are and where we want to go. He stressed the need to reinforce and modernise welfare systems as a whole in order to strengthen family policies in Europe. He pointed out that some forms of families, although existing, are disregarded in policy-making, for example by denying the right to same-sex couples to adopt the children of one partner.
More direct support to youths is needed
Olivier Thévenon (policy analyst at OECD) presented the great diversity in policies supporting youths in OECD countries, pointing out failures to provide self-sufficiency. Dr Thévenon listed the most common patterns: in the Nordic countries there is strong policy support for youth to engage in education even beyond the secondary level, combine employment and studies, and leave the parental home and establish their own household in their early 20s. Nonetheless, poverty rates are high among young individuals there, but for a limited period in life. Elsewhere in the OECD, where youth are supported indirectly through their families, large number of countries have failed in promoting self-sufficiency. Also when targeting support to the most vulnerable youths, the outcomes were not necessarily better. According to Dr Thévenon, greater self-sufficiency can be achieved through policies that prevent early school leaving, by promoting a wider and better combination of work experience during studies, and by welfare policies that support youths directly (social assistance, housing, and education subsidies), and aim at increasing their personal income. Providing youths, neither in education nor in employment, with a second chance to obtain qualification later in life is also key measure for societies to be more inclusive.
Promoting and encouraging the use of paternity leave is of key importance
Gerda Neyer (Stockholm University) focused her presentation on outcomes of fathers' parental leave use in the Nordic countries. Currently, about half of the OECD countries have specific paternity leave entitlements allowing fathers to take leave during the first days immediately following childbirth. However, only some countries earmark a particular period in parental leave, which covers a longer period, for the exclusive use of each parent, with no possibility to transfer it to the other parent. Reforms introducing specific incentives for fathers’ leave use have proved to be efficient in encouraging fathers to take some period of the parental leave. Nevertheless, up to now, the leave taken by fathers is either less than the maximum authorised by legislations or not (much) more than the legally reserved minimum. Dr Neyer offered several explanations for these low numbers and/or short durations. She highlighted that most of the fathers who do not take parental leave are those with higher labour market risks, such as low education, short work experience, etc. Evidence presented in her intervention indicates that when the father takes leave, couples are more likely to have a second child than if he does not take parental leave, irrespective of the length of the leave taken (above or at the minimum). Couples in which the father shares child rearing with the mother are also less likely to separate in the long run. These results support policy claims to implement parental leaves for fathers and to promote greater gender equality in the care for children.
Preschool education improves children’s life chances
Chiara Monfardini (University of Bologna) presented an overview on what we know about the effects of child care arrangements on child development, and the policy challenges that need to be tackled. A growing literature establishes the importance of early inputs in children’s life. Time inputs from both mothers and fathers are the most valuable resources for young children, with father’s time gaining relevance as the child grows older. External high quality child care constitutes a good substitute, with positive and long-term effects, especially for children with a disadvantaged background who receive less investments early on from families. Although there are still strong differences in the supply of formal child care and in its characteristics across countries, Professor Monfardini presented two general policy recommendations: Countries should i) encourage parents to spend more time with their children via generous and flexible parental leaves for both mothers and fathers; and ii) promote the availability and use of affordable and high quality child care.
In the panel debate that followed the presentations, Anne H. Gauthier (University of Groningen), Annemie Drieskens (Confederation of Family Organisations in the European Union - COFACE), Nuria Diez Guardia (European Commission), and Olivier Thévenon (OECD) discussed central aspects to be considered when creating, implementing and evaluating family policies. Specifically, the panellists focused on elements needed for a modern family policy, the key issues on family and social rights at the EU level, the evaluation of current policies supporting youth in their transition from parental dependence to economic self-sufficiency in early adulthood, and future prospects regarding the top priority of family policies in 50 years. The panel debate was moderated by Harald Wilkoszewski (Population Europe, Brussels Office). Highlights from the debate are presented below.
Anne H. Gauthier (Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute and University of Groningen): “There is an issue of eligibility to parental leave. Specifically, there is a non-negligible proportion of people who are not eligible to parental leave because of their current employment contract or employment history. There is also the issue of people who may be eligible to parental leave but don’t dare take it. For example workplace culture is still a big barrier to father’s leave in many countries. Finally, there are also increasing reports of pregnant women who face job discrimination at hiring or at contract renewal, simply because of their pregnancy. This is against the law, but is nonetheless happening”.
Annemie Drieskens (COFACE – Families Europe): “A modern European family policy should be a coherent mix of measures that provide support to the diversity of families during their entire life course in all European countries. COFACE is currently working closely together with the European Parliament, calling upon the European Commission to bring forward initiatives in the field of work-life balance. The suggested initiatives are part of the recently approved resolution “Creating labour market conditions favourable for work-life balance”.
Nuria Diez Guardia (European Commission): “Part-time work is not the ideal solution for promoting gender equality as it also means part-time income and part-time pensions for women”.
Olivier Thévenon (OECD): “Policies allowing job flexibility should be promoted further. The right of citizens to request flexible work is of crucial importance when pursuing gender equality”.
Dr Livia Oláh, Project Coordinator of FamiliesAndSocieties, concluded the event by highlighting the need of a dynamic view on the family as such, and that there are no specific best practices in the realm of family policies that would suit all countries. Instead, there are many inspiring practices we should learn about and have an open mind about to promote wellbeing of families and individuals alike.