Sweden has a well-developed family policy, organized around the goals of family economic security and physical well-being, voluntary parenthood, gender equality, and children’s rights.
Family policy can be defined as government activities that are de- signed intentionally to support families, enhance family members’ well-being, and strengthen family relationships. These activities in- clude the policy makers’ goals for families’ well-being as well as the specific measures governments take to achieve these goals (Aldous & Dumon, 1991). Not only does Sweden have a well-developed family policy, but Swedish policy makers are continually “in pursuit of the vision of a better, more humane, more socially cohesive Sweden”
Swedish family policy is org~Lnized around the goals of enhancing family economic security and ensuring family members’ physical well-being, which are goals of social policy in several European nations. Sweden is unique, however, in its strong adherence to the additional goals of voluntary parenthood, gender equality, and children’s rights. Sweden is a small, advanced indus- trial nation about the physical size and shape of California with only 8.8 mi|ion people, but a study of its family policy can be enlightening for scholars and policy makers in other countries interested in under- standing or promoting change in government policy toward families. The purpose of this article is to provide a comprehensive analysis of family policy in Sweden. The article begins with a brief history of the development of Swedish family policy goals and a consideration of the reasons for the consensus on family policy that has arisen. Next, many of the programs that have been designed to reach these goals are described. The success of these programs is evaluated, and the future of family policy in Sweden is discussed in light of recent eco- nomic and political developments.
The Development of Family Policy Goals in Sweden
Family policy in Sweden had its origins in the 1880s. Liberal urban intellectuals in Parliament, who admired the move toward social de- mocracy in Germany, recommended that the Swedish government provide economic security for all citizens, not just the poor (Olsson, 1993). In general, however, family policy goals can be said to date from the 1930s, coincident with the birth of the Swedish welfare state (Eduards, 1991; Korpi, 1990). Influential social scientists Alva and Gunnar Myrdal drew attention to the low Swedish fertility rate and proposed reforms designed to enhance the quality of family life. Other European countries were also struggling with a low birth rate, a con- sequence of industrialization and the worldwide depression. A low birth rate spelled national suicide in the minds of many Europeans, and many governments tried to legislate a return to more traditional family patterns, believing that reducing married women’s right to work and prohibiting contraception.would solve the fertility problem (Carlsson, 1990). The Myrdals suggested that Swedish policy makers follow a different course. In their book, Kris i befolkningsfrdgan (Crisis in the population question), the Myrdals proposed that the government strive harder to provide families with a secure economic
A repeated theme, characterizing US social policies toward children and their families, is that the US has no explicit family policy, nor does it have a coherent package of social policies that are targeted on children and their families. Nonetheless, there is general agreement that the US does have policies that have consequences for children and their families, and that many of these might constitute ‘implicit’ family policies. However, these policies tend to be limited in scale, coverage, and generosity and are usually categorical and narrowly focused. They lack the comprehensiveness and universality of policies in other advanced industrialized countries. Furthermore, the US has consistently invested a significantly smaller share of GDP in children and their families than almost all the other such countries. One consequence is that the situation of children in the US seems to be much worse than that of children in other advanced industrialized countries. In more recent years, however, there have been some efforts at improving child and family policies and the story now is a mixed one—but there remain major deficits in our policies and programs. Fortunately, children’s issues are emerging on the national policy agenda. In this article, we describe current US child and family policies, touch on earlier history for context, and discuss the issues facing the US as we enter the twenty?first century. Ultimately, we need to confront the question of what can be done now to advance the children’s cause on the national agenda.