Forschungs- & Entwicklungsinformationsdienst der Gemeinschaft - CORDIS

FP5

IPROSEC Berichtzusammenfassung

Project ID: HPSE-CT-1999-00031
Gefördert unter: FP5-HUMAN POTENTIAL
Land: United Kingdom

Conceptualising and measuring families and family policies in Europe

The first issue in the sixth series of Cross-National Research Papers examined some of the methodological questions raised in the first stage of the IPROSEC project. The papers discussed differences in social constructions of the key concepts used in the project, as well as problems of ensuring comparability when measuring socio-demographic change across EU member and applicant states.

The first paper located the research in relation to the wider context of cross-national theory, methods and practice. It reviewed critically the methodological choices that had to be made by the project team and their possible implications for the findings from the project. Members of the research team were aware that any similarities or differences revealed by the study might be no more than an artifact of the choice of countries. They also cautioned against drawing out generalizations from a limited number of cases or attributing seemingly similar outcomes to the same causes. The IPROSEC project, therefore, adopted a multimethods approach to enable the findings to be validated. The paper concluded that, if recurring patterns of phenomena were found within clusters of countries, both in terms of inputs and outputs, then it might be possible to justify extrapolation of policy practices between countries that have undergone similar policy processes, and to determine under what conditions the policy solutions adopted in one country could be transferred elsewhere.

The second paper examined issues concerned with conceptual equivalence in different societal and linguistic settings, taking account of the ways in which context-specific traditions contribute to the social construction of phenomena. The project was interested in identifying indicators of societal coherence by studying the relationship between social phenomena and their socio-cultural settings. A number of the key concepts selected to exemplify societal differentiation, particularly between the member and applicant states represented in the project, were discussed: biological ageing, lifelong learning, parenting skills, intergenerational solidarity, welfare dependency, informal economy, labour market concentration and segregation, reconciliation of paid and unpaid work, distribution of household labour and individualization of social rights. It was noted that, although Eurostat uses internationally agreed definitions of social indicators, the data it collates and harmonizes are collected at national level. They are, therefore, dependent on national statistical tools, traditions and practices, which means that they must be interpreted in relation to the socio-economic and political contexts in which they are socially constructed.

The third paper looked at the definitions of some of the more problematic indicators used in the project to track family change. Issues of measurement and comparability were discussed, with reference to data availability and consistency over time (within countries) and space (across countries). The indicators selected for analysis were grouped around the topics that were central to the themes of the project: family forms, fertility, population ageing and aspects of labour market activity and inactivity that impinge on family life. The analysis highlighted the problems that the research team was facing in establishing a database using European data sources, particularly with regard to the candidate countries. It also identified the importance of tracking family change at sub national level if the reality of family formation and structure are to be properly understood.

The final paper explored national interpretations of the place of the family in the relationship between the public and private spheres in the EU member states and candidate countries included in the project. From a comparative perspective, it examined the extent to which family policy is legitimised institutionally, for example through references in a country’s constitution, by falling within the remit of a designated government department and by being identified in law and practice as a specific policy domain. The paper began the task of characterizing family policy in the countries under study.

From the information examined, France stood out as the country with the most explicit and coherent official family policy, while Sweden had adopted a more individualistic approach, emphasizing gender equality and the interests of children. Hungary was found to have retained its attachment to an explicit family policy, narrowly based on a normative definition of the family, which confines women within the home. Germany recognized the legitimacy of government involvement in family affairs, but with the conjugal relationship as the centrepiece of policy.

After transition, Poland had maintained its focus on support for the traditional family values underpinning society. As in the case of Hungary, in Estonia, the third candidate country, financial imperatives were limiting the development of a coherent family policy. In the United Kingdom, the hands-off approach was giving way to greater acceptance of political intervention in family life. By contrast, in the southern European countries and Ireland, the state was shown to impose formal mutual obligations on family members, while expecting them to manage their affairs with only minimal support from public policy.

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