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What and whom are family policies for? Unpacking the meaning of citizens’ support for family policy across Europe

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 January 2022

Tatjana Rakar*
Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Heejung Chung
School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK
Katharina Zimmermann
Department of Socioeconomics, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
Mi Ah Schoyen
NOVA Norwegian Social Research, Oslo Metropolitan University, Oslo, Norway
Maša Filipovič Hrast
Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia


The paper provides a comparative investigation into public attitudes to family policies. It shows that citizens’ support for family policies is diverse across different welfare regimes with respect to four countries belonging to distinct regimes: the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway and Slovenia. Using qualitative data, we unpack the ways individuals view the need for family policies, the rationale they use to explain their support for family policies and for imposing restrictions on access to family policies – ie. why, for whom and under which conditions. We find that social rights narratives are common in Norway; a social investment logic is prevalent in Germany and Slovenia; while in the United Kingdom, the dominant view is closer to the work-central individualised responsibility narrative of neoliberalism. In addition, we find differences across regimes in which family policies should target. In the United Kingdom and Germany, the focus is much more on providing support to activate parents, while in Norway and partly Slovenia, the focus is on providing well-being for children. The findings show that despite some convergence in family policies across Europe in recent times, we still find clear diversity in what and for whom family policies are for, its rationale largely embedded in the larger institutional normative structures of the welfare state. The results not only contribute to the literature on the relationship between public attitudes and welfare institutions, but also point towards shifting ideas about the role of family policies in the context of societal change.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Social Policy Association

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