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Three Lessons on the Welfare State, Bruno Palier 2008

« Trois leçons sur l’Etat-Providence » (Three Lessons on the Welfare State) summarises in three chapters the effect of the evolution of society on redistribution. The three chapters are: 1. Family and the revolution in the role of women, 2. Children and Equal Opportunities, 3. Ageing and Equity.

Three Lessons on the Welfare State, Bruno Palier 2008

In particular, the author uses the family and its characteristics to show us the social needs that the welfare state tries to address. He also explains the inequalities in society and the challenges that the state has to face in order to address them. Finally, he shows how society and individuals have changed over time.


It explains the effects of women's emancipation (e.g. women spending more and more time on their careers instead of their children, with whom they spend less and less time).

1. The Women's Revolution and its effects on society
The women's revolution, although it has deep roots, has taken place in a very short period of time, and women are now also gaining access to education.
This change has led to the virtual disappearance of the traditional family, so families need services to replace the housewife.
However, the fact that women are also in the labour market has had consequences for long-term demography. They aspire to have fewer children, so society is ageing more rapidly, even though women's contribution to the economy is important. In France, for example, women represent one third of the working population. This reorganisation of tasks, in which women no longer do domestic work, has totally transformed the vision of the family.
But the welfare state intervenes particularly at the beginning and at the end of our lives, and it was initially based on familialism in almost all of Western Europe. However, family policy needs to be rethought as there is a lack of childcare services and child protection policy.

2. The combination of work and family
One of the main problems in today's society is for women to combine family and work. Indeed, some women are forced either to accept that their careers are heavily penalised because of maternity leave, or to give up marriage and/or children.
Women's work has transformed the vision of the family, as working women now have to find ways of looking after their children: finding childcare (crèches, full-time nannies, etc.), then school, extra-curricular activities, etc.
Often, women are forced to stop working to take care of their children full time because of the costs of childcare.
The fall in fertility is due to the presence of too many constraints on female citizens.
The average number of children per household in Europe is two, and this decline in fertility is having an effect on the ageing of the population, which will have important long-term consequences.
To prevent fertility from being too low, women must be able to work, by combining work and motherhood, and not by encouraging them to work less.

3. Uncertainty of employment
Other barriers to motherhood are unemployment and job insecurity, and a stable employment contract results in a higher probability of having a child. This also explains why women are reluctant to have children before their employment situation is secure.
This is also why the salary of the spouse, the "head of the family", is so important, it is more stable and represents a larger share in the household.
The problem is all the more important as women are often paid less because they are likely to interrupt their career to devote more time to their children.
Thus, the employer, not wanting to take risks, pays them less. On the other hand, agreeing to give up work for several years may penalise women with regard to the contributions required to pay their pensions.
Men's participation in household tasks, dividing the work between spouses, may also increase this probability. It also reduces the risk of separation or divorce.


1. Social heredity
A child's success at school depends very much on his or her cognitive abilities, and a large proportion of the population suffers from dysfunctional abilities. But learning deficits are also often linked to the "culture" of the family. In this situation, the welfare state cannot intervene... They are transmitted by the parents or by the environment in which one evolves. In order to access certain opportunities, a high income is essential, which is why average incomes often lag behind because the investments are high.
Social inequalities increase and social heredity can be observed here, as the investment in human capital cannot be the same. The learning environment in which a child evolves therefore has an impact on his or her future.

2. The case of single mothers
The problem here is the growing importance of a new category of the population: single mothers (they represent 15% to 20% of families with children in Northern Europe). Indeed, the children of single mothers are more likely to be poor than the children of a couple (one job, therefore one salary, therefore more unstable income and fewer opportunities for the child to have a good schooling and outside activities).
On the other hand, inequality of opportunity is present in the influence of the family's learning culture. It is also noticeable that highly qualified mothers and fathers spend more time with their children, something that single mothers cannot necessarily do: indeed, single mothers more often have less qualified jobs and therefore cannot spend as much time with their children. Child poverty is 3 to 4 times higher when women are in employment and the effect on single parent families is even stronger.

3. Schooling
On the other hand, there is the problem of schooling. It is known that the pre-schooling of children (from 0 to 6 years old), allows children to have more homogeneous grades in their studies in the future.
The report states that "learning begets learning" (p.99, line 3),
This pre-schooling is available to all families, especially disadvantaged families who are more likely to put their children in kindergarten as early as possible, because, as far as public schools are concerned, this 'care' is free. This system increases equality of opportunity.


1. A growing ageing population
First of all, the increase in life expectancy is a challenge to be met. How can pensions be paid if there are more and more pensioners and they live longer and longer?
Furthermore, we saw in the first chapter that families are increasingly hesitant before having children and that the fertility rate is increasingly low (1.8 children per family in France on average). So, we notice that there are more and more pensions to pay but less and less working people to pay for them through the distribution system.
It is to be expected that spending on the elderly will increase by 10% of GDP over the next few decades.

2. Care
Another problem is the care of the elderly. Private solutions are often very expensive and not all pensioners can afford them. This task falls to the family, and sometimes family members have to stop working to look after their parents/in-laws (usually women). Indeed, not all families can afford to pay for a place in a specialised private institution. Therefore, important reforms have to be implemented by the welfare state, such as increasing the expenses for the elderly or increasing the care for them...
The state must take over the social protection of the elderly, even if the family has the possibility to intervene for the care.

3. Inequalities in pensions
Another problem for the elderly is poverty: in France, the poverty rate for the over-65s is between 5 and 9%.
The solution is to work longer, the person concerned will have a bigger pension which will last longer. But the major problem is the difference in income between pensioners: the richest, thanks to their money, can afford a more comfortable pension that will allow them to live longer, whereas the opposite is true for the poorest, who will die earlier.
The richest pensioners are then the most expensive.
The system of equal pensions is no longer adequate: people study longer, so they start working later, but the retirement age remains the same.
The retirement age should therefore be delayed according to the age at which people start working.
Personal success throughout one's life therefore has a great influence on one's future retirement.
The welfare state therefore plays an important role throughout an individual's life. It influences the fertility of the country, the care of a child at birth so that the child's future life is successful, as it then influences the retirement of the elderly. A balance must therefore be found between contributions and taxation so that the equality of individuals is always maintained.

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