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The Gender Division of Welfare: The Impact of the British and German Welfare States. (Reviews).

The Gender Division of Welfare: The Impact of the British and German Welfare States. By Mary Daly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. x plus 263pp. $64.95/cloth $23.95/paperback).

That welfare states reproduce and reinforce existing gender divisions of labor is by now a commonplace of welfare-state studies. Mary Daly's study extends recent analyses by elaborating a thoroughgoing analysis of how welfare states contribute to gender stratification and how particular types of welfare states affect the distribution of resources between men and women. Daly notes that social entitlements in both the UK and West Germany mainly cover employment and its attendant risks. In comparison, welfare states pay little attention to the risks of single motherhood which include lack of access to male wages and the need to combine paid with unpaid labor. Similarly, welfare states have ignored or underestimated the burden of caring in which one private individual, in our society usually a woman, tends a sick relative, spouse, or child. Low benefits for single parenthood and weak social recognition of the burden of caring limit continuous female participation in the labor force, and the lack of steady employm ent still further lessens female welfare state benefits. Such policies reward women who remain in families headed by wage-earning males.

Like most contemporary comparative studies of welfare states in the social sciences, Daly argues that the two nations under study embody relatively coherent and substantially different approaches to social policy. Daly identifies a West German approach that relies on social insurance, rewards life-time employment, and ties benefits to labor market status. This contrasts with a UK model based on low but relatively equal levels of social benefits. The German model is also committed to "subsidarity" and the positive promotion of traditional family values while the UK model is more individualistic and concerned with keeping families out of poverty without removing work incentives.

Formal analysis of the effects of social policy on individuals and households from two surveys of family income--a 1984 West German and a 1986 UK study--yields interesting results. Predictably, both the West German and UK welfare states privilege men and male roles even if the extent of the damage is still remarkable; in the 1980s, the UK welfare state transferred to women 79 percent of what it transfers to men, the West German state, 64 percent. Among individuals, the British welfare state fosters equality between men and women to a greater extent than the West German. Surprisingly, West Germany's tax benefits and transfer payments promote greater equality between male and female household heads. As important, the more generous benefits of the German welfare system raise more women out of poverty than the more egalitarian but more meager UK. Although West German financial subsidies are more effective in eliminating male poverty than female poverty, German women still have a rate of poverty less than one half that of women in the UK.

As a scholar concerned with gender equality, Daly is alarmed by findings that the hierarchical male-dominated West German welfare state aids those at the bottom more than the relatively egalitarian UK system. Is poverty the price of gender equality?

But Daly's dilemma is largely of her own theoretical making. Hasty generalizations about the main trends of social policy are insufficient to build a case about the effects of the full battery of a state's social policies on individuals or households. Indeed, the whole contemporary tendency in the social sciences to portray states as "models" or "regimes" badly needs reconsideration. The logic of such hypothesized models, their derivation and their authoritative expression, remain extremely vague. West German subsidarity is a useful slogan because it is so amorphous; it is less a generator of social policy than a post-hoc justification. The meagerness of the UK's benefits was never policy. Beveridge and the Labour government had hoped to set higher minimums but the exigencies of the post-World War II economy made this impossible.

To determine whether paternalist family policies elicit greater funding for social policy requires an examination of the historical evolution of such policies and an identification of the mechanisms linking one to the other. Historical alternatives abound. Did West German family policy begin as a response to the unsettled post-World War II years with their high male mortality and large number of broken families? Was the rise in West German benefits tied to the success of the German economic miracle and the expansion of the West German economy in the 1950s and 1960s?

Easy efforts to capture the essence of social policy in the UK and West Germany in a few phrases must be greeted with suspicion, as representing another chapter in the long struggle of the social sciences to deny temporality and agency. The German welfare state is not the simple product of the post-World War II Christian Democrats but of Bismarck, post World War I Social Democracy, Hitler, and allied occupation authorities in the Western sectors. So too is the British welfare state the product the great Liberal landslide of 1905, the post World War I settlement, Conservative retrenchment, and post-World War II Labour triumph.

In some ways this kind of more complex perspective is much more in line with Daly's concerted efforts to get beyond policy rhetoric and see how welfare states actually affect women. Daly's study marks an important step in social science research. Current examination of the origins of social policy is hostage to our ignorance of their actual effects. If Daly's work suggests the need to reconsider dominant assumptions about our approach to welfare state history, it also suggests new directions for welfare state analysis.
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Author:Hanagan, Michael
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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