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

  • Introduction

Sociology Family Policies
Rense Nieuwenhuis, Wim Van Lancker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0205


Family policies are those public policies that directly affect families with children. Given the fact that definitions of what constitutes a family are constantly changing, and with changing goals of governments, the nature of family policies has been changing since their early inception (in their modern form) at the time of industrialization. Family policies are understood as having a variety of goals, including 1) poverty reduction and income maintenance, 2) direct compensation for the financial cost of raising children, 3) fostering employment, 4) improving gender equity, 5) support for early childhood development, and 6) raising birth rates (see Thévenon 2011 in Origin and Variety of Family Policies). The available research on family policies is vast, and naturally difficult decisions had to be made to end up with the selection of studies presented here. Important works and topics had to be left out, although many of the topics that are not explicitly discussed emerge in one form or another in our selection of research. Although our selection seeks to cover a broad range of perspectives, we have focused on 1) empirical research, often (but not exclusively) quantitative in nature, 2) research on outcomes of family policies, 3) research on family policy outcomes that include employment, wages, poverty, and fertility, and 4) in addition to some classics, some recent works that point to current frontiers in family policy research. It should also be mentioned that the majority of work in the field focuses on OECD and EU countries, and that is reflected in the selection of studies presented here. In our description of the studies, we have tried to stay close to, and use, the terminology and key phrases in those studies. The references are organized in six major categories, which necessarily show some overlap. We begin with several General subsections that cover the Origin and Variety of Family Policies, selected Classics, concepts, Research Overviews, discussions on Gender in Welfare State Regimes, and recent perspectives on family policies such as social investment. Next, we detail studies that examined various forms of family Policies as their object of study, covering parental leave, childcare, and cash support for families, including child support and alimonies. Third, we selected studies on Outcomes pertaining to employment, unpaid work, occupations and earnings, poverty, and fertility. Fourth, we highlight several Debates that are ongoing in the literature, including on the Matthew Effect and on using aggregated data to study the link between fertility and (women’s) employment. Fifth, we highlight several research Frontiers: areas of more recently developed topics that include the role of fathers, family policies outside the EU or OECD, company-level (rather than public) family policies, and the use of experimental approaches. We conclude by listing a range of Data Sources that are relevant for the continued study of family policies and their outcomes.


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