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The Role of Old Ideas in the New German Family Policy Agenda

GPS, Vol. 6 No. 3, (2010)

German family policies have changed significantly in recent years. They
have moved towards a gender neutral “dual earner model” and stressed the
need for “social investment” in children, who are seen as rare and valuable
human resources. Scholarly accounts of these recent developments have
pointed to a range of factors explaining the turnabout in German family policies,
among them the role of ideas in the policy process. Yet, the ways in
which ideas become influential have remained unspecified in analyses of
institutional change. Above all, the critical role of duration—the incubation
period prior to major policy change—has been neglected. Drawing on John
Kingdon’s classical study, we argue that ideas (policy alternatives) need
time to develop. We suggest that in varied permutations the policy ideas
enacted in recent German family policy reforms had been around for some
time and were familiar to policy advisers and decision-makers. Smaller policy
adjustments during the last three decades provided occasions for discussing
these ideas and assessing the details of policy design. When
enacted, policy ideas get the opportunity to become mature, and tested. In
turn, they provide opportunities for policy learning and become politically
resonant. This article explores how policy ideas about cash transfers to families,
policies to foster maternal employment, parental leave, and public
support for childcare have become familiar, mature, and politically resonant,
and by that token influential in shaping recent reforms.

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