The social democracies of Northwestern Europe offer many varieties of inspiration for the United States. My favorite analysis of progressive family policies remains Janet Gornick and Marcia Meyer’s Families that Work (Russell Sage, 2003). It addresses issues of gender equality as well as child wellbeing and develops a nicely balanced proposal for combining expansion of publicly provided child care with paid family leaves and increases in paternal participation in childrearing. Plus, it actually explains how this could happen and what it would cost.
Sociologist Erik Olin Wright at the University of Wisconsin organized a conference around the Gornick/Meyers proposals as part of a series of projects envisioning “Real Utopias.” The interdisciplinary discussion was terrific (see the conference website), and is leading up to a special issue of the journal Politics and Society and an edited volume to be published by Verso. An essay that I wrote for this project emphasizes the need to go beyond family policy to a broader project of rethinking and restructuring the care economy as a whole. Erik keeps pushing me to get more specific. I’m trying!
Meanwhile, international discussions of family policy provide rich food for thought. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has published a comprehensive report called Babies and Bosses (Europeans seem really worried about below-replacement fertility rates and the need to get more mothers into paid employment). The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has published two terrific reports that provide a model for discussions that should be taking place in more countries: Striking a Balance and It’s About Time: Men, Women, Work, and Family.
Also worth noting are recent changes in family policy in Korea, another country worried about below replacement fertility rates. Since I now have TWO brilliant Korean graduate students working with me, I’m trying to talk them into writing a guest blog on what is going on there. I’m also writing to friends in Taiwan and Japan to see what they have to say….