Farewell to the family as we know it: family policy change in Germany.

VerfasserOstner, Ilona

1 Introduction

German unification merged two contrasting family models: the East German dual-worker model and the West German male breadwinner model. While socialist East Germany expected both mothers and fathers to work full-time, West German social policies were based on ideas of different but equal and complementary gender roles fostering the idea of male breadwinning and female home-based care for smaller children. East Germany had employed measures to increase the fertility rate and supported having children. In contrast, preunification Social Democrats, feminists and the Greens had for long strictly resisted any family policy that could have been interpreted as "pronatalist", while Christian Democrats, albeit troubled by the declining West German birth rate (since the 1970s among the lowest in the Western world), had pursued family policies that explicitly followed the line "neither NAZI nor GDR". In the course of unification-after the wall had come down in 1989-West German ideas and institutions were transferred to the East, including those which supported breadwinner marriages and part-time or non-employment of pre-school children's mothers. East German mothers' employment has remained higher than that of West German ones, yet, part-time employment and also non-employment of smaller children's mothers have been rising despite the plenty of public day care in the East (Ostner et al. 2004). Some analysts speak of a "re-traditionalization" of East German gender relations (BMFSFJ 2006). Family size shrank in post-unification East Germany, although childlessness is still significantly lower than in the West (Kreyenfeld and Konietzka 2007).

Since 2002, Germany has been essentially changing directions towards a third model cunningly dubbed "sustainable" family policy (Nachhaltige Familienpolitik) by policy-related experts (Rurup and Gruescu 2003). Previously, "sustainability" was only used in relation to "green" (environmental) issues, which up to the present have scored high on the (West) German people's agenda. In the meantime, proposals for new family policy measures have been issued and step by step put into force under the familiar heading of "sustainability". The new policy model conceives of children as society's future assets, seeks to encourage childbearing by supporting parents to be workers and attempts to reduce families' poverty by boosting mothers' employment. By increasing childcare facilities also of very small children, by developing "Sure Start" measures for children and families at risks and, generally, early childhood education (giving services rather than cash to families) sustainable family policy claims to invest in children, make up for social inequalities and generate correspondingly "sustainable" human capital. Promoting mothers' continuous employment and, more generally, the "dual-earner family" by "de-familializing families" and "(re)commodifying" mothers is said to add to children's resources and additionally raise birth-rates. Sustainable family policies appear to particularly tap resources of women and their (potential) offspring and, simply put, have turned into labor market policies. Once fully put into practice they will have altered the German family policy logic quite remarkably and also surprisingly, especially, the previous West German one which can be summarized as marriage-based "maternalism" (see Orloff 2006 for the recent use of the concept).

The new model appears to owe a lot to the activation paradigm developed in A Caring World (1999) by Willem Adema und Mark Pearson from the OECD: "The new social policy agenda is how to achieve social solidarity through enabling individuals and families to support themselves ..." (ibid.: 4); also to the "child-centered social investment strategy" publicized by sociologist and EU policy-adviser Esping-Andersen in Why we need a New Welfare State (2002). New research exists on the active roles and moral authority of the OECD and the EU Directorate for Employment, Labor and Social Affairs (DELSA) in framing the work/family reconciliation agenda respectively the need for early childhood education (Mahon 2006) (Both agendas are also cornerstones of the recent German family policy reshuffle). In her study of the evolution of the OECD reconciliation agenda Mahon argues that the advice of the OECD as "a key source of economic, and more recently, social policy analysis and prescription" becomes "especially important in situations (...), when states are involved in a process of [greater than]unlearning[less than] old policies (maternalism) and learning new ones (reconciliation)" (ibid.: 179). While nation states remain important loci of policy learning and contestation, Mahon claims that supra-and international organizations and transnational advocacy networks have been imperatively contributing to national policy learning processes, also in the field of family policies.

In contrast to employment, competition or financing, the "transnationalization" of German family policy has not been studied so far. Yet, the impact of OECD and EU blueprints for family policies should not be overestimated. While Germany pursues the overarching goals of the OECD and EU activation paradigm by respectively streamlining its family policy model, sustainable family policy instruments deviate significantly from OECD recommendations (e.g. in their refusal of "cash for care" policies). Moreover, if we follow Falkner et al. (2005) who distinguished three worlds of compliance with EU soft social legislation, e.g. in the field of employment, and consider that Germany has hitherto largely belonged to either the "world of neglect" or the "world of domestic politics" when it came to complying, any falling in line with the even "softer" family policy field cannot be easily assumed, and when it occurs warrants detailed explanation.

At first sight, the ongoing family policy change seems at odds with mainstream judgments on reform (in)capabilities of the German welfare state: being most in need of reform but least able to change mostly as a consequence of path dependence and related policy feedbacks (Esping-Andersen 1996; Pierson 1998, 2000). As said, no comprehensive analysis exists on why and how family policy change has come about in the second (but not in the first) term of the Schroder government. Why were steps taken and measures designed that at the very first sight have more in common with Swedish, if not formerly socialist, ones than with West German ones? Why could German ideas and policies traditionally linked to left (including feminist) groups and actors emerge again after having failed several times in the political process and eventually, albeit gradually, get implemented?

Due to both the novelty of the change and the lack of systematic research the aim of my essay is rather modest. It first introduces a simple framework for describing family policies and their change. The main part pinpoints the discourses and measures which mark the change in German family policies. Further research is needed to satisfactorily answer the question of driving forces for the ongoing change. I will briefly indicate directions for the search for causal accounts.

First of all, one may question the verdict of Germany's incapability to (face) change. Alber (2000) convincingly showed how the Kohl government from 1983 onwards reacted to demographic changes, new economic pressures and the welfare state's obvious "growth to limits": it stalled (yet, did not generally cut back) social expenditures and made them more dependent on incoming revenues (contributions); at the same time, the government paid attention to earlier Christian Democrat requests to better support labor market outsider, including non-employed mothers and their children as well as elderly people in need of care. Hence, Alber identified a political shift towards social services-as evident from the 1993 rule that gave pre-school children older than three the right to a place in a kindergarten or from the Statutory Care Insurance established in 1995-and towards mothers' issues: these shifts took place more than twenty years ago and fitted well Christian Democratic thinking.

We could also argue that mainstream welfare state literature on path dependent reforms pays too little attention to the fact that present-day Germany "incorporates" institutional legacies of at least four distinct welfare state models: those of the Weimar Republic, of the Nazi regime, the socialist one of the GDR and the pre-unification social-capitalist Sozialstaat (Hockerts 1998; Schulz 1998). Each regime picked combined and extended earlier ideas albeit in particular ways. Hockerts and Schulz identify policy legacies in both socialist GDR and pre-unification FRG. The shift towards sustainable family policies appears to follow trodden paths, too, as it also selects from familiar ideas and policy traditions. Publicly funded and provided daycare for under 3s may deviate from the West German path, but does not diverge from the East German socialist one, and it breaks only marginally with ideas put forward by "reform Social-Democrats" during the 1920s. The official Second Family Report, published in 1975 and launched by the then Social-Democrat-Liberal coalition government, reiterated such ideas, e.g. that families are prone to fail and their children in need of collective support the more, the less their parents are educated (see Neidhardt 1970 who had chaired the Family Report commission). I cannot further elaborate the argument in this essay. Yet, I dare say that policy legacies, unification, transnational action and learning prospects, external and internal pressures, and new cultural constellations, e. g. the altered composition of the German population which has resulted from both, unification and migration to Germany (Schroeder 2006), may have colluded to open the windows of opportunity for politicians and policy-related experts to...

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