In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Work and Family in the German Welfare State

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Centers and Institutions
  • Journals
  • Data Sets
  • German Family Policies of the Past
  • Family-Policy Reforms of the Late 2000s
  • Impact of Family Policies on the Work-Family Relationship
  • Impact of Culture on the Work-Family Relationship
  • Development of the German Welfare State

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section

  • Homelessness: Ending Homelessness as a Grand Challenge
  • Immigration and Child Welfare
  • Impacts of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
  • Find more forthcoming articles...


Social Work Work and Family in the German Welfare State
Birgit Pfau-Effinger, Nicola Schwindt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0222


The concept “welfare state” refers in general to areas of state policy that are directed toward ensuring social security and the organization of social services, called “social policy” (in German, Sozialpolitik). “Welfare regimes” are characterized by the state’s intervention in market conditions in various ways and with different aims, and by its aim to influence the societal distribution of resources and resulting social stratification. Welfare-state policies are in many ways significant for the formation of the relationship between the pursuit of gainful work and family life in a society. We define the relation of work and family as all the ways in which the family organizes itself around the requirements of employed work during periods when care-needy children are in the household. This is closely bound to a given society’s “gender culture,” which influences how women and men are differently integrated both in the home and in the workforce (Pfau-Effinger 2004, cited under Impact of Culture on the Work-Family Relationship). The welfare state, which imposes the legal framework for the work-family relationship, thus also influences a society’s gender structures. The work-family dynamic was until the second half of the 20th century in many European countries organized on the basis of the “male-breadwinner model,” which features women in the home, in domestic roles such as providing childcare and running a household—instead of women’s full integration into the workforce and institution of public daycare for children. Women’s burden of responsibility for family and household tasks is generally considered one of the essential reasons for their limited role and status in the labor market and in the social security system. The degree to and manner in which a state supports childcare and promotes the employment of women corresponds, according to analysts, directly to the promotion of gender equity generally. Accordingly, welfare states are often differentiated by whether they more heavily support the family or the goal of gender equality. Germany is of particular interest here because its welfare state is seen in the international research discussion as particularly conservative in terms of gender policies. With more recent reforms in family policy in Germany, however, this impression is no longer fully accurate: from the 1990s, and most recently in 2007, social rights to public childcare and its availability were considerably broadened, greatly relieving women and families from the tasks of family-based childcare. Moreover, the gender-related policies of eastern Germany have traditionally been different from those of western Germany, and this difference continues up to today. Most of the research on work and family in the German welfare state features international comparative research, but it should be noted that a portion of the research featured here is available only in German.

General Overviews

Busemeyer, et al. 2013 is an overview of findings and research perspectives on the German welfare state. Relatively few texts exist that permit a general overview of family policies in Germany and show how they frame the work-family relationship. Bahle 1995 gives an overview of the historical development of family policy in Germany. Leitner, et al. 2004, an edited volume, provides a good account of the development of family policies and gender relations up to the early 2000s, and how the role of the male breadwinner has changed. Strohmeier 2008 is a comprehensive overview of German family policy and its history. Kreimer, et al. 2011, another edited volume, analyzes recent change in family policies, the various ways family policies currently frame the relationship between work and family, and their social consequences. Peuckert 2008 is a standard work on the historical development of the family-work relationship in Germany. The report of the Federal Ministry for Family, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend 2012) introduces the main aims and the regulation of government family policy from the perspective of the ministry. In this regard it is the best source for advanced students and researchers who aim to do precise analyses of official family policies and how they affect the work-family relationship in Germany.

  • Bahle, Thomas. 1995. Familienpolitik in Westeuropa: Ursprünge und Wandel im internationalen Vergleich. Frankfurt: Campus.

    On the basis of a historical comparative study this volume analyzes the development of family policy of the German welfare state and in other parts of Europe.

  • Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend. 2012. Familienreport 2011: Leistungen, Wirkungen, Trends. Berlin: Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend (BMFSFJ).

    The report of the Federal Ministry, written for the public, presents study results on general family issues as well as the reconciliation of work and family, with special focus on the impact of the new family policies of 2007 regarding public daycare and a new parental leave option. It includes data regarding attitudes toward work-family reconciliation issues.

  • Busemeyer, Marius, Bernhard Ebbinghaus, Nicole Mayer-Ahuja, Herbert Obinger, and Birgit Pfau-Effinger, eds. 2013. Wohlfahrtspolitik im 21. Jahrhundert: Neue Wege der Forschung. Frankfurt: Campus.

    This volume by a group of leading German welfare-state researchers gives an overview of research on the development and main questions surrounding the German welfare state, and suggests new research perspectives. It addresses a broad scientific audience in different disciplines.

  • Kreimer, Margareta, Richard Sturn, and Rudolf Dujmovits, eds. 2011. Paradigmenwechsel in der Familienpolitik. Wiesbaden, Germany: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-531-93360-3

    This book gives an overview on change in German family policies and the various ways they frame the work-family relationship. It also analyzes their consequences for the possibilities of women and men to reconcile childcare and employment, and for child poverty.

  • Leitner, Sigrid, Ilona Ostner, and Margit Schratzenstaller, eds. 2004. Wohlfahrtsstaat und Geschlechterverhältnis im Umbruch: Was kommt nach dem Ernährermodell? Wiesbaden, Germany: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

    This overview provides a number of interesting texts about the development of the welfare state and gender relations in Germany. Taking up the discussion about the male breadwinner model, it looks on the debate from various angles, analyzing family policies as well as actual work-family structures in Germany.

  • Peuckert, Rüdiger. 2008. Familienformen im sozialen Wandel. 7th ed. Wiesbaden, Germany: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

    A standard work for students as well as the interested lay public. It provides overviews on the historical change of family forms and the work-family relationship in Germany, including the policy framing of women and their dual role in employment and family work. Now in its seventh revised edition, it presents results from theoretical and empirical research.

  • Strohmeier, Klaus Peter. 2008. Familie und Familienpolitik in Europa. In Lehrbuch moderne Familiensoziologie: Theorien, Methoden, empirische Befunde. Edited by Norbert F. Schneider, 237–252. Opladen, Germany, and Farmington Hills, MI: Budrich.

    Comprehensive analyses of German family policy and its history. The article discusses the special features of German family policy as compared to those of other European countries. It emphasizes the importance of direct and indirect financial transfers in German family policy that are unique in Europe. Comprehensive overview, useful for students.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.