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Family policies and child well-being

Chapter in book
Authors Helena Olofsdotter Stensöta
Daniel Engster
Published in Handbook of Family Policy
Pages 15
ISBN 9781784719333
Publisher Edward Elgar
Place of publication Cheltenham
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Political Science
Pages 15
Language en
Subject categories Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies), Political Science


In recent decades, researchers have shown increasing interest in studying the relationship between welfare state policies and child well-being. This new body of research has grown out of the comparative political economy literature on welfare systems and patterns of inequality. Starting from a concern with socio-economic inequality (Esping-Andersen, 1990; Scruggs and Allan, 2006), researchers first investigated how different welfare systems relate to gender inequality (Lewis, 1992; Sainsbury, 1996) and inequality between generations (Lynch, 2006). More recently, researchers have turned their attention to the relationship between welfare policies and child well-being (Bäckman and Ferrarini, 2010; Engster and Stensöta, 2011; Martorano et al., 2014). Motivated in part by the United Nations adoption of the Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1990, which helped to put the well-being of children on the global agenda, researchers have begun to explore if and how welfare policies can support the well-being of children, usually defined as human beings under the age of 18 or 19 years old. One fundamental question within this literature is how child well-being should be understood and measured. Ambitious data collection efforts by organizations such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO) and others have substantially shaped this debate. Many of these data-collecting efforts have not only generated better data about children’s lives but also broadened the definition of child well-being to include more dimensions. Growing numbers of scholars, for example, are incorporating children’s subjective perspectives into their measures of children’s overall well-being (Bradshaw and Richardson, 2009; OECD, 2009; UNICEF, 2007, 2013). The new attention to children’s subjective perspectives corresponds with a general shift in research on children from a singular focus on children’s ‘well-becoming’ toward a broader perspective that also encompasses children’s present ‘well-being’ includ- ing a view of children as acting and reflective subjects (Ben-Arieh, 2005; Bradshaw et al., 2013; Kamerman et al., 2010). While this broader approach to children’s well-being is not without its critics, most scholars now agree that child well-being is a multidimensional phenomenon. As Ben-Arieh and Frønes (2007, p. 249) express it, ‘any attempts to grasp well-being in its entirety must use indicators on a variety of aspects of well-being’. The purpose of this chapter is to review the literature on the relationship between welfare policies, family policies and child well-being, including both objective and subjec- tive indicators. Because most research on the effectiveness of welfare and family policies has been conducted in Western countries, most of our discussion is also limited to this context. We conclude by noting some important gaps in the research and by raising some questions for future research.

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