The role of old ideas in the new German family policy agenda.

VerfasserMatzke, Margitta

1 Introduction

German family policies have changed surprisingly and profoundly in recent years. Change culminated in 2007, when Federal legislation introduced a 14-months wage replacement benefit for childcare (Elterngeld), thereby replacing the old (1986) parental leave scheme, which had rather explicitly encouraged parents (in fact mothers) to stay at home and care for their children. The reform increased parental leave benefits and tax subsidies for childcare markedly and was bolstered with massive funding for (state- and municipal-level) investment in childcare facilities, especially for very young children. (1)

Reconciliation between professional careers and raising children (von Wahl 2008: 299), support for the dual-earner family (Wust 2009: 10), and social investment in children as European societies' most valuable future assets form the centerpiece of the new family policy agenda. Measures intended or already enacted pertain to a wider range of policy fields including tax policy, education policy, activating labor market policy, pension policy, and even family law and child support regulation. Spanning this diverse spectrum is the theme of improving the country's human resources. In family policy its manifestation is in the declared goals of increasing birthrates, especially of parents with academic degrees, securing skilled labor, and improving gender equality in employment opportunities. The parental leave benefit partially compensates parents who leave formal employment to take care of their infants for their income losses, but this period is kept as short as possible.

For many observers these changes towards "sustainable family policy" (2) represent a milestone in German family policy and "a clear sign of changing rationales", "a decisive departure from West Germany's historical male breadwinner model", and a remarkable move towards dual earning. They also imply a greater reliance on services in Germany's hitherto cash-transfer heavy welfare state. Most importantly, current reforms are altering the goals and the social groups in the center of attention of family policy intervention. Rather than redistributing resources and supporting needy families, the new parental benefit targets parents working in well-paying jobs. It is designed as income replacement, calculated as 67 percent of the parent's net income prior to the parental leave. For the first time German public policies like parental leave or the extension of early on full-time childcare "unambiguously [aim] at reducing female career interruptions and increasing men's involvement in the child-rearing domain." (Erler 2009: 129). This objective has also become visible in the 2007 reform of post-divorce alimony and child support rules. That reform significantly weakened rights formerly attached to the marital status by stipulating that the needs of the youngest child and her mother are prior to those of the divorced wife3 and her children, thereby expecting women to look for a job immediately after separation and divorce.

Eventually, German women will find it harder (if not impossible) to claim state support as wives and mothers when they are needy but not employed, and harder not to resort to self-help via employment. Social rights are increasingly granted not to the status of parenthood per se, but to the parent-worker in gender neutral ways and regardless of marital status. Therefore, we can speak of a "farewell to maternalism" (Orloff 2006) and farewell, also, to the family as we knew it (Ostner 2010). As a corollary to the "farewell to maternalism" the new parental leave program also seeks to encourage fathers to take time off and do their share of full-time childcare. Somewhat paradoxically, at first sight, it also urges both parents to re-enter formal employment rather briefly after the birth of their child, leaving their infant in the custody of professional care workers. Yet, this prescription is well in tune with new EU-European child policies; they may eventually lead to what Jensen and Overtrup (2004: 825) have identified as a general trend towards "institutionalizing" children and childhood in our societies. Hence, the "farewell to maternalism" appears to be part and parcel of a broader "farewell to parentalism", the higher care involvement of many fathers notwithstanding.

This article analyzes the normative and conceptual roots of the move toward the "adult worker model" (Lewis 2001). "Ideational lineages" are significant in this move, because the policy change implies an important redefinition of rights and responsibilities among family members as well as between families, the state, markets, and the wider society. It has also given a new (liberalist) twist to the principle of subsidiarity, deeply entrenched in the (West) German multi-level institutional setting. The recent policy change revitalized the question of who is primarily responsible for delivering a particular kind of service, and who should be service or care provider of last resort. As our contribution demonstrates, controversies in policy fields related to the family had more or less explicitly revolved around complex issues of subsidiarity. From the late 1950s onwards the federal government stood against the Bundeslander and the municipalities. The churches warned against any erosion of the idea of the family as private sphere, family and welfare organizations challenged advocates of stronger state involvement in childcare and youth activities, each time appealing to the idea of subsidiarity (Westphal 1975, Kuller 2004, Jordan 2005, Munch 2007, Munch and Hornstein 2008). Subsidiarity therefore constitutes a good vantage point for studying significant changes of German public policy. The new parental leave scheme strengthened families' attachment to the labor market in a "work-first" fashion, as did recent activation strategies for needy families and the long-term unemployed. New child policies have begun to detach children from particularistic linkages with their families of origin. Reforms have severed connections with older meanings of subsidiarity and introduced new ones. As we will show, ideational change in family policy started as early as the late 1950s when the child allowance (for the third child) lost its function as a family wage supplement, and employers were no longer expected to pay for it. It continued when some Lander (with social democratic governments) challenged the 1961 Constitutional Court ruling, which stipulated that the state was a service provider of last resort, while church-based and secular welfare organizations (insofar as they supplemented rather than replaced the family) providers of first resort (Munch 2007).

Scholarly accounts of the recent developments have pointed to a range of factors explaining the turnabout in German family policies. Structural driving forces such as the pressure of socio-economic and demographic change and the repercussions of population ageing are rarely missing in the causal narratives (Hardmeier and von Wahl 2006, Henninger et al. 2008). However, knotty issues about the timing and the cross-national variation of large-scale reorientation in family models are immediately called to mind in the context of such arguments. Why is it only recently that most countries are willing to respond to the demographic challenges that demographers have pointed out as potentially problematic as early as in the late 1950s (Kuller 2004)? Political explanations, focusing on changes in the institutional constraints, decision-making dynamics, or actors in charge reform decisions concentrate on more proximate causes that do not have this problem. They add valuable insights into the causes of family policy change, but they have their own problems. Family policy has posed a challenge to class-based arguments (Winter 1988, von Wahl 2008: 28), and researchers have tried to uncover the partisan dynamic of the changes. Political parties in favor of "modernizing" family policies may have been the driving forces behind reforms (Hardmeier and von Wahl 2006: 323, Leitner forthcoming 2010), but in the German case such an account would need to explain why some of the major players in the family policy field have changed their minds. The major political parties have converged on identical policy proposals (von Wahl 2008: 30 f.), forming the supermajority that could produce the far-reaching and expensive policy changes, but how did they come to agree on a definition of problems and solutions in the first place?

At some point most of the explanations refer to cognitive and normative factors--changing family models and changing ideas about the family and the proper role of the state in supporting the family (Hardmeier and von Wahl 2006: 320, Henninger et al. 2008: 307, Blum 2010 in this issue: 13 f.). Arguments about changing ideas share the problem of timing to some extent (Matzke and Ostner forthcoming 2010b): The diffusion of new gender- and family norms and new understandings of the desired balance between work and family have been going on for a long time. Why do gender equity issues manifest themselves in policy change after the turn of the millennium? How, specifically, has diffusion come about in so many different countries, and why did the German response occur so relatively late? Moreover, arguments about changing policy positions on the part of the major actors in the field are fraught with validity-issues: It is hard to get a reliable sense of the depth and the precise nature of shifts in preferences and attitudes, harder still to assess the causes of such shifts. Changing expectations and behavior on the part of individual mothers and fathers may be not the cause, but the consequence of policy changes, merely reflecting the grinding traces of fiscal austerity and welfare state restructuring that most Western welfare states have been experiencing for three decades by now (Cox 2000).

Policy ideas per se, therefore, are...

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