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The Evolution of Christian Democratic Social Policy De-familization and its consequences

josef Hien
European University Institute
josef Hien
European University Institute
Open Panel

Abstract

Ever since Esping-Andersen, a systematic disadvantaging of women is perceived as a key characteristic of the Continental welfare state model. Nevertheless, Germany – an archetype of the Continental model – has drastically shifted its family policy towards a more gender-balanced approach during the past decade. This is especially surprising considering that the changes were enacted by the Christian Democrats, a political movement not only seen as the founder and safeguard of the Continental model but also prominent for clinging to its very conservative family ideals. In this paper we argue that the new German family policy is the result of a lagged adaptation of Christian Democratic ideas regarding the nuclear family to a changing environment throughout the 1990s and 2000s. The adaptive process created a specific form of family policy that we describe here as Christian Democratic post-familialism. Christian Democratic post-familialism is especially targeted on higher educated couples and heavily disfavors the lower income and educational stratus. We will show that none of the “usual suspects” invoked to explain changes in family policy (female MPs, feminist mobilization, value change in society, electoral demands of constituency, etc.) can in themselves explain the policy shift. Instead, we put forward that only by looking at the internal ideational shifts within the German Christian Democrats one can fully explain why a deviation from the male breadwinner model occurred precisely at that point in time and in this specific form. We argue that two external shocks were decisive in permeating the Christian Democrats with ideas about progressive family policy: reunification and the hazardous party financing scandal of the late 1990s. Reunification was important because it brought an influx of East German politicians into the party that had been socialized in the more gender equated welfare regime of the GDR. This opened for the first time a discursive space for alternatives to the male-breadwinner model. The party financing scandal was crucial because it crowded out parts of prominent carriers of conservative family ideals, which paved the way for altering the party’s preferences regarding family policy.