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Family well-being: European perspectives


The impact of demographic change and the growing participation of women in the labour force on family structure has been the focus of research and policy making for some time.  Less is known about how these trends impact on family wellbeing. A new edited collection of papers, Family Well-Being: European Perspectives (Springer Social Indicators Research Series, volume 49, forthcoming 2013) plugs a yawning gap in the methods developed by social scientists to measure “well-being”, which to date have not featured a targeted measure of this variable for family groups’ (p. 1). The book is particularly welcome in this time of austerity when policy efforts tackling weak economies across Europe may have profound effects on children, the elderly and immigrants, among others.

family cycling outside

Conceptualising family well-being

The book is based on comparative case studies of family well-being across Europe. It begins by analysing the concept of family well-being and provides a variety of viewpoints to demonstrate different approaches to the subject.  In further chapters, empirical findings about different dimensions of family well-being are discussed, in particular the stages of the family cycle, including childhood, adolescence, family formation and the elderly. A wide range of factors that impact on family dynamics are considered, including immigration policies, the division of labour within home, women’s participation in the labour force, and current research on quality of life.

Families with young children

Pamela Abbott and Claire Wallace use the European Quality of Life Survey (2007) to analyse the ‘social quality of families in Europe’ focusing on parents with young children. The chapter examines the role of employment and unemployment in the quality of life of parents in 27 European countries. Quality of life research transcends economic and social indicators by incorporating other dimensions, such as satisfaction and happiness. The authors of this chapter specifically focus on ‘the role of social quality for parents’ and ‘life satisfaction and then societal quality generally in European societies’, all of which contributes to a Model of Societal Quality(p. 27).

Daniela Del Boca and Anna Laura Mancini focus on several issues pertinent to child poverty by focusing on the Italian case. The focus of their research is on exploring the links about various factors that contribute to child poverty. One of the concluding points is that child poverty is a highly complex arena for policy formation, with contributing factors including unemployment and the lack employment opportunities, in-work poverty, and social protection structures. Strategies addressing child poverty need to address these factors.

Simon Chapple addresses the following question ‘What is the causal impact of being in a lone parent family on child well-being?’ The analysis is based on a comparative analysis of OECD countries’ data. While there are different kinds of family structures, the focus of this chapter is on child well-being in lone parent households (where parents are divorced, separated or one of the parents is deceased). However, ‘in comparison to some policy-related literatures like the impact of education on earnings or even the employment effects of minimum wages’, the author concludes that ‘the empirical literature on the impact of family structure on child outcomes is at an immature stage’ (p. 3).

Gender equality

Leave policies are also an important part of family well-being. Karin Wall and Anna Escobedo analyse data from 22 countries to examine the interdependent nature of leave systems, gender equality and welfare regimes. Anders Ejrnæs and Thomas P. Boje also analyse welfare regimes, focusing on ‘how institutional as well as individual dimensions determine the risk of spending more time than wanted outside paid work because of care responsibilities’ (p. 131). Their research is based on data from the fourth round of the European Social Survey.

Joris Ghysel considers family well-being from a perspective of spousal preferences regarding at-home task divisions, drawing on data from the 2004-2005 Flemish Families and Care Survey. The author demonstrates that it is rare for both partners to reach a consensus on their task division preferences. This especially applies to women who are unsatisfied with the share of care demands. In a related paper, Almudena Moreno Minguez examines ‘how strategies of work-family balance are rooted in cultural and institutional frames which determine individual choices’ (p. 177). The study assesses the impact that education, work situation and occupation have on work-family balance decisions, drawing on the European Labour Force Survey and Eurobarometer.  A wider historical perspective on economic and social disadvantage, gender and health is provided by Bernard Harris in ‘Measuring the Past: Gender, Health and Welfare in Europe since c. 1800’.

Youth, the elderly, migration and social work

In the final section, contributors explore youth, the elderly, migration and social work. Andreas Walther, Barbara Stauber and Axel Pohl consider the meaning of success as it applies to youth transitions from a life course perspective. Frederique Hoffmann, Manfred Huber and Ricardo Rodrigues analyse the challenges conformed by informal cares, arguing that informal care giving in Europe is in a state of flux ‘driven precisely by changes in demographics, living arrangements and the labour market participation of women of working age that today make up a substantial part of informal carers’ (p. 243). Ulla Bj┼Ćrnberg discusses the experiences of asylum-seeking child and their families in Sweden, drawing on qualitative interviews with children aged 9-18 and their parents. Finally, Antonio Lopez and Sagrario Segado ‘approach several key dimensions of the family well-being: firstly, the particular characteristics of Spanish families; secondly, the barriers for the inclusion of these families; and thirdly, the design of intervention programmes to improve their inclusion’ (p. 277).

Overall, the book provides a rich and diverse range of multidisciplinary and multinational research into family well-being in Europe today, exploring the complex factors which have shaped family life and are likely to affect the conditions for family well-being in the future.