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Conference on future EU research issues for family policy

08/12/2010

What are the major trends of comparative family research in the European Union? What are the main research gaps to be tackled? What is the future of families? These were the key questions addressed in the final conference of the FAMILYPLATFORM project.

FAMILYPLATFORM is a consortium of twelve organisations working together to articulate key family research and policy issues for possible inclusion in the European Commission’s or other research funding bodies’ research agendas. The conference, entitled ‘Research issues for family research and key policy questions in Europe’, was held in Brussels on 4 and 5 November 2010. The conference brought together representatives from the European Commission as well as policy-makers, scientific institutes and civil society organisations from across the EU.

Emerging alternatives to the traditional family model

The conference began with the coordinators of the first three work packages setting the scene for the research agenda.

Speaking about major trends in family research, Kimmo Jokinen (University of Jyväskylä) gave the ‘dual earner–female carer’ model and the ‘one full-time and one part-time earner–female carer’ model as emerging examples of alternatives to the ‘male breadwinner’ model. However, broadly speaking, the traditional perception of gender roles, still holds true, with women still doing the lion’s share of domestic work in the home.

Research also shows that, in the new and complex social structure of today, middle-class families with two earners, well-educated parents and no more than two children have a good chance of making a good living. By contrast, the most disadvantaged groups are one-parent households headed by an unemployed woman with a low level of education and more than two children; and non-EU immigrant families who are unemployed or have poorly paid jobs and have weak family networks. In this context, family policies, and childcare services in particular, have become extremely important in many European countries.

As part of her critical review of existing research, Karin Wall (ICS, Lisbon University’s Social Sciences Institute)  reported on the key research areas identified: contemporary motherhood and fatherhood; relations between children''s experiences and life outcomes; the changing composition, structure and networks of families; family relationships and break-ups; social inequalities and living arrangements; family interactions and transitions; care arrangements and social policies; and family policies.

Finally, in a presentation on the future of families in Europe, Olaf Kapella (Austrian Institute for Family Studies) and Anne-Claire de Liedekerke (World Movement of Mothers in Belgium) set out the conclusions of a foresight exerciselooking at future family structure as far ahead as 2035. Narratives help to set different family forms in different scenarios.

Mainstreaming the family into all the relevant policy areas

During the afternoon, representatives of family organisations, employees, trade unions and scientists read out statements (which can be found on the FAMILYPLATFORM website. General points to emerge from the debate were that there should be more focus on research that looks at family policy from the child’s perspective and the importance of ‘family mainstreaming’. The latter concept is about ensuring that policy-makers always consider the impact on families of different policies (e.g. fiscal policies).

A European research agenda for the families

The second day was devoted to the presentation of the key research areas that came out of the work packages and that will feed into the final research agenda. These will be:

1) Life course and transitions in family life (including family structures and forms):  Research into moments of transition for families in an increasingly complex society (e.g. when parents have children, when the children leave home, when the mother goes back to work after childbirth, when parents retire and when a family breaks up), and possible measures to support these transition periods.

2) Care arrangements - Research into care of children but also care of the elderly, disabled or sick members of the family.

3) Areas such as family roles, gender and work life balance: Research into how families organise their everyday lives and into different types of family. Issues might include how families manage their time in the face of their increasingly demanding professional lives, how parents resolve conflicts about how to divide up household work and how to deal with the problem of mothers often having to do much of the care and household work, frequently without recognition.

4) Migration and mobility: Research into (legal and illegal) migrants moving within a country, from one country to another in the EU or from outside the EU into the EU. Issues might include whether members of the family come with the immigrant or stay in the home country (the latter often happens with regard to eastern European immigrants).

A specific chapter will also be devoted to methodological questions and monitoring and evaluation of social policies. The final research agenda will be publicly available in early 2011.

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