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Farewell to the Family as We Know it: Family Policy Change in Germany

GPS, Vol. 6 No. 1, (2010)

German unification merged two contrasting family models: the East German dual-worker model and the West German male breadwinner model. Since 2002, Germany has been essentially changing directions towards a third model called ―sustainable family policy‖. The new policy model conceives of children as society‘s future assets, seeks to encourage childbearing by supporting parents to be workers and attempts to reduce families‘ poverty by boosting mothers‘ employment. By increasing childcare facilities also of very small children and by developing early childhood education politicians claim to invest in children, make up for social inequalities and generate ―sustainable‖ human capital. The ongoing family policy change seems at odds with mainstream judgments on reform incapability of the German wel-fare state, path dependence and related policy feedbacks. We still lack a comprehensive explanatory framework which systematically relates the many factors that contributed to the surprising farewell to homebound mo-thering and, more generally, the emergence of sustainable family policies in Germany. This essay points to factors like older policy legacies, unification, or new cultural constellations that may have colluded to open the windows of opportunity for politicians and policy-related experts to initiate reforms.

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