Chapter 18: Work–family reconciliation policies in Europe
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Over recent decades, the reconciliation of work and family life has become one of the major topics of the European social agenda. The focus is mainly instrumental: reconciliation policies are likely to foster gender equality and to increase female labor force participation. A higher participation rate may improve economic growth and the sustainability of the present-day welfare state, especially in light of an aging population. It is exactly for this reason that the European 2020 strategy has set targets for the overall employment rate of 75 percent for the population aged 20–64 (EC, 2010a). Reconciliation policies might also increase fertility by making a child less costly in terms of income and career opportunities. At the level of the European Union (EU), a better work–life balance for women and men throughout the life-course is thus promoted in order to enhance gender equality, increase the female participation rate, and meet demographic challenges. Yet, actual reconciliation policy differs widely among EU member states. Some countries have framed childcare as a social right, and focus strongly on the outsourcing of care. Others are much more focused on leave provisions or emphasize the importance of flexible working hours in order to make work more compatible with family life. This diversity in policy responses is often referred to as illustrating the highly diverse nature of European welfare states (for example, Gornick et al., 1997; Thevenon, 2011).

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