In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Family Policy

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • History and Trends
  • Marriage
  • Barriers between Work and Family Life
  • Reconciling Work and Family Life
  • Defamilialization
  • Care Work

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Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Social Work Family Policy
Neil Gilbert
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0003


As a field of study, the boundaries of family policy have shifted over time in response to changing concerns about family life. Early interests in family policy focused on the provision of children’s allowances and benefits to increase fertility rates and help families manage the costs of childrearing. As the market economy and the welfare state have evolved in modern times, public agencies and private enterprise have come to assume many of the social functions performed by the family in an earlier age, from caring for children to supporting parents in their old age. Since the 1960s, the increasing rates of divorce, cohabitation, and single parenthood have weakened the traditional bonds of family life. In response to the growing needs that accompanied the attenuation of these traditional bonds, the role of the state has expanded in helping to address the issues and pressures of family life. The literature on family policy embodies analyses of the trends in marriage, work and family life, supports for children, and a wide range of public measures, which are reflected in the growth of social welfare provisions for cash and in-kind benefits, including family allowances, household help, parental leave, lone-parent cash benefits, and payments for childcare. The scope and substance of family policy vary among industrialized countries, which encourages learning through international comparisons.


One of the earliest volumes to highlight the importance of international comparisons is Kamerman and Kahn 1978, a study of family policy in fourteen countries. More recently, several useful collections on family policy have been edited that focus on a range of important topics currently on the public agenda. Crouter and Booth 2009 provides a survey of employment policy issues related to work and family. Del Boca and Wetzels 2007 analyzes how well policies in European countries harmonize work and family life. Mason, et al. 2002 covers a range of policies designed to cope with contemporary concerns, such as those that that arise from step-parenthood or gay and lesbian unions. Garfinkel, et al. 1998 focuses on the need for child-support policies generated by the increasing rates of divorce and nonmarital births. Berrick and Gilbert 2008 explores controversial questions related to adoption by same-sex couples, fairness in child support, and empowering parents through public measures. Harrington 2000 analyzes the nature of care work and paying extended family members for childcare.

  • Crouter, Ann, and Alan Booth, eds. 2009. Work-life policies. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

    This edited collection examines work and family employment policies in detail. Split into four parts, this book analyzes work-life culture, professional/corporate policies, hourly employee policies, and future directions for work-family policy and scholarship.

  • Del Boca, Daniela, and Cecile Wetzels, eds. 2007. Social policies, labour markets and motherhood: A comparative analysis of European countries. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Examining the relationship between fertility and female participation in the labor force, this comparative analysis offers conclusions about why some government policies are better at accommodating working mothers than others.

  • Duerr Berrick, Jill, and Neil Gilbert, eds. 2008. Raising children: Emerging need, modern risks and social responses. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    In this book a collection of family scholars evaluates the ability of public policies to address and adapt to the needs of the modern family. The chapters explore how to promote the role of fathers in childrearing, whether to pay extended family members for childrearing, the right to adoption by same-sex couples, and how to empower parents through public policies.

  • Garfinkel, Irwin, Sara McLanahan, Daniel Meyer, and Judith Seltzer, eds. 1998. Fathers under fire: The revolution in child support enforcement. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    This book examines family policy responding to the rising tide of divorce and nonmarital birthrates, which have dramatic economic and educational consequences for both mothers and offspring. Based on a twenty-year review of child support enforcement measures, the analysis calls for a revision of policing nonresident fathers.

  • Harrington Meyer, Madonna, ed. 2000. Care work: Gender, class, and the welfare state. New York: Routledge.

    Explores the nature of care work and the influence social policy has in shaping conceptions of care, its quality, and whether it is deserving of remuneration. Raises the issue of the family’s and state’s responsibility for the burden of dependency.

  • Kamerman, Sheila, and Alfred Kahn, eds. 1978. Family policy: Government and families in fourteen countries. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    A groundbreaking comparative study that systematically analyzes the role of government in countries that fall into three broad categories: those with an explicit and comprehensive family policy, those with a more narrowly focused field of family policy, and those with implicit and reluctant family polices.

  • Mason, Mary Ann, Arlene Skolnick, and Stephen Sugarman, eds. 2002. All our families: New policies for a new century. 2d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This book discusses the myriad of variations among modern families (e.g., divorce, step-/single-parent, immigrant, LGBT) and proposes legal policy changes that would enable these diverse family units to retain strong family bonds.

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