CORDIS - EU research results

Social Investment Perspective in Work-Family Reconciliation Measures in Europe and East Asia

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SIPEA (Social Investment Perspective in Work-Family Reconciliation Measures in Europe and East Asia)

Reporting period: 2016-10-01 to 2018-09-30

This project provides a review of how and how far social investment policies enable women’s labour participation in Europe and East Asia. It focuses on five areas of work-family reconciliation policies (child care, parental leaves, maternity protection, flexible working hours and women’s pension income in older age) in seven research sites (France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, South Korea, Sweden and the UK).
These issues are important because: 1) many of the sites are facing similar socio-economic challenges, such as low fertility rate and shortage of labour; 2) there is a common concern regarding unequal gender division of labour in the family and its knock-on effects on women’s labour participation and the financial independence they need for exercising personal choice on their roles in the family and economy at different stages of life; 3) Europe and East Asia countries have different cultural heritage and welfare traditions and potentially differences in the understandings and practices of social investment perspectives.
The objectives of the project are 1) to examine the meanings of the social investment perspective in the selected sites; 2) to identify similarities and differences in their work-family reconciliation measures; 3) to examine the effectiveness of these policies in promoting the social inclusion of women in the labour market and the family; 4) to explore factors contributing to or hampering such effectiveness; 5) to promote knowledge transfer between these sites; 6) to derive innovative policy suggestions to enhance the effectiveness of work-family reconciliation measures.
The main findings are as follows:
1) The understandings of social investment in Europe are expressed in EU directives and other policy documents with explicit rationales, aims, objectives, policy elements, policy targets, potentials and drawbacks. The understandings in East Asia are more reflected in the existence of social investment provisions, such as childcare and other work-family reconciliation measures. Some scholars reckon social investment measures could provide an answer to the multiple challenges faced by developed economies while others criticize that social investment measures could lead to more problems, such as reinforcing the dominance of the capitalist labour market and focusing too much on future generations at the expense of those who are in need at present.
2) Most governments value the importance of child care as a measure in reducing the caring responsibilities of the family. However, their commitments vary. A similar situation is found in other policies such as maternity protection and parental leaves. These could be due to factors such as residual welfare ideologies and financial constraints.
3) No significant increase in women’s relative labour participation rate (the difference between male and female full-time labour participation rate) is found although the social investment perspective has been influential in most research sites for more than a decade. Nor any major difference is noticed in the women’s relative labour participation rate among sites with different levels of government commitment to the provision of work-life reconciliation measures.
4) The ineffectiveness of conventional work-family reconciliation measures could be a result of their failure in addressing diversity among women. Current provisions concentrate on women providing care for young children and neglect the needs of women caring for other family members in needs because of other reasons (such as disabilities or chronic illnesses). Other explanations include the difficulties in changing the traditional gender division of labour and the impact of austerity policies subsequent to recent financial crises.
5) The project provides the researcher with the resources to visit different research sites to discuss issues with a wide range of audiences. The researcher has been enabled to serve as a bridge between the two regions (Europe and East Asia) and also between two communities (academic and policy) to promote mutual understanding and knowledge exchange.
6) The project has identified some innovative policy measures, including measures adopting a softer approach (such as the award of family-friendly employers promoted in Hong Kong and the campaign for no overtime work on Wednesdays in South Korea) and those of a more assertive nature (such as the non-transferrable daddy’s leave in some European countries and the legislation on carers’ paid leave currently under debate in the EU).
Various tasks have been carried out under each work package:
1) Development of two defamilisation indexes (namely state-led care focus defamilisation and economic defamilisation index) and applying them in international comparison.
2) With the aid of the country-based policy grids, seven aspects (objectives, targets, eligibility, level of benefits, duration of benefits, costs of using the measures and waiting time) of policies in different research sites are compared.
3) Semi-structural interviews have been conducted with 13 policy makers, researchers, activists and academics in seven countries/locations.
4) The researcher has been visiting scholars in four non-academic organisations during the project in Belgium, Hong Kong, South Korea and the UK.
5) At the time of reporting, ten articles have been published in international journals. The findings have been presented at four international conferences, one public event and four special workshops for policy makers and researchers. The researcher has been engaged in a number of local projects in the UK to promote women’s integration in the labour market.
6) The researcher took part in training sessions offered by the host institution and external research institutions. She has also attended MCAA and EU events to engage in the wider EU research community.
The project has aroused much attention among policy makers in the East Asian sites. The researcher was invited to discuss with government ministers and advisers on work-family reconciliation issues. In the EU sites, the project has received more attention from think tanks and non-government organisations. The researcher organised a joint seminar on defamilisation and older women workers in conjunction with Age-Platform Europe and the Centre for European Studies. She has also been invited to visit a number of organisations in Brussels, Paris and Budapest.
The project is special mainly in three ways. Firstly, it is one of the few studies that compare EU and East Asian experiences of social investment perspectives. The findings provide new evidence for the study of similarities and differences between EU and East Asia social policies. Secondly, this is one of the few studies focusing on the impact of social investment measures on women. Project findings show that there may not be a direct relationship between social investment measures and women’s relative labour participation. Thirdly, the project has a strong interdisciplinary orientation. The project involves multiple disciplines including social policy, labour policy, pension policy, gender studies, family studies and demography. The organisations and experts involved in the project are from diverse professional and academic backgrounds. Such experience has helped her to appreciate the complexities of the issues and to explore future policy and research development from multiple perspectives.
project poster for the MSCA prize award 2017