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IPROSEC Résumé de rapport

Project ID: HPSE-CT-1999-00031
Financé au titre de: FP5-HUMAN POTENTIAL
Pays: United Kingdom

Changing family structure in Europe: new challenges for public policy

This fifth issue of Cross-National Research Papers was devoted to comparisons of changing family structures in the IPROSEC countries. The six papers examined different aspects of family change in recent decades with reference not only to family structure but also to value systems.

The first paper by Marie-Therese Letablier and Sophie Pennec used data collected for the IPROSEC project, supplemented by information from national sources, to provide an overview of changing household and family structures and related gender issues. The paper showed that, although change has been occurring in all the countries in the project, it has not had the same impact everywhere, resulting in different challenges for national governments. The authors identified the main challenge for policy as the organization of support for families to help them reconcile work and family life through a much greater diversity of services and benefits.

In his paper, Anthony Abela analysed family values, the cultural specificity of patterns of value orientations and related options for social policies in the IPROSEC countries, using the 1999–2000 European Values Study. He highlighted gender issues and the changing meaning of marriage and identified political profiles and attitudes towards social policy orientations. The findings showed a significant relationship between post traditionalism, political ideologies and most social policy issues. The study pointed to a weakening of the traditional left–right political divide and the corresponding options in social welfare at individual level in favour of ‘third way’ politics and an increasingly complex multicultural, post-materialist and post-traditional European welfare society.

The other papers in the collection focused on specific aspects of socio-economic trends, mainly associated with patterns of fertility, in an attempt to track the disparities between demographic change, perceptions and attitudes towards family policies, and their possible impact on social practices. The paper by Kati Karelson, Valentina Longo, Olga Nimeus and Jutta Trager compared the impact of public policies on family formation in four countries: Estonia, Germany, Italy and Sweden. The authors combined quantitative and qualitative approaches, drawing on national data and interviews carried out for the IPROSEC project to bring together information about trends in fertility and female economic activity with the perceptions and attitudes expressed by individuals. They examined how families perceive incentives and obstacles with regard to family formation decisions, and looked at the possible impact of social and family policy measures on family decisions about fertility and family life.

They found differences not only in the timing and pace of change but also in its direction. Whereas completed fertility levels in Estonia and Sweden have remained relatively stable, they have fallen more steeply in Italy and West Germany. While women in Sweden are well supported by public policy and display high employment rates, in Germany and Italy, female employment is rising more slowly and, in Estonia, the rate fell sharply during the 1990s from a previously much higher level, in a context of withdrawal of public support for working mothers. The barriers to women’s employment were cited as a possible explanation for the reluctance of couples in the latter three countries to embark on family formation.

Three of the papers presented single country case studies. That by Ingrid Jonsson dealt, in greater depth, with fertility changes during the twentieth century in Sweden and the resulting challenges for family policies. She examined the development of modern family policy as well as gender and labour market policies, scrutinizing fertility trends in relation to family policies during different historical periods. Jonsson showed that not only are fertility decisions in Sweden determined by family policies, but they are also closely interrelated with a set of environmental parameters, including the labour market situation, gender relations and the family-friendliness of the social context.

The paper by Dagmar Kutsar and Ene-Margit Tiit provided an overview of changes in family structure at the beginning of the twenty-first century in Estonia, with a focus on unmarried cohabitation and policy responses to it. Since the 1990s, pre-marital cohabitation has increased dramatically in Estonia and is now a widespread living arrangement, as in the Scandinavian countries. In 2000, 55% of children were born out of wedlock. As in the Swedish paper, the two authors were interested in the decision-making process with regard to living arrangement, and used results from a longitudinal survey of students’ attitudes in combination with qualitative data collected for the IPROSEC research to analyse trends. They found that, during the 1990s, whereas no radical change was observed in students’ value orientations, gender remained an important factor explaining preferences in living arrangements, with women opting for more conventional family forms.

The final paper by Maria Nemenyi and Olga Toth explored the contradictions between demographic data, attitudes and values concerning families in Hungary. They found that, although radical changes have occurred in lifestyles and family life, family structures and gender roles have changed very slowly and tend to remain traditional. The Hungarian process of modernization since the 1990s has not led to a fundamental shift: conservative values are still prevalent, except among the younger generations. The authors concluded that values change more slowly than demographic behaviour. They noted that, in the 1970s and 80s, individual and collective ideology had moved closer to societal expectations, but the 1990s brought a reversal and reinforced divisions within society, impeding the modernization process.

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Linda HANTRAIS, (Professor)
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