Social investment, robust families, and training and education

It is worth recognizing that Okun's 'efficiency-equity trade-off' and Iversen and Wren's 'service sector trilemma' have been conceptualized in gender- and demography-neutral terms. By adopting a gender-sensitive perspective, the advocates of the social investment edifice seek to identify the interconnectedness of social risks and needs of families over the life course. By so doing, they also take demography seriously. The policy challenge of ageing societies is to make labour and life-course transitions less precarious by providing capacitating social services and enhancing human capital in order to achieve higher levels of employment and productivity in response to the dramatic changes in the world of work, family care, and welfare. In the process, male breadwinner's income transfers are increasingly insufficient to cover new social risks and demographic pressures. As children represent tomorrow's workforce, their life chances rely to a considerable extent on their family situation and thus on public support for working families. In other words, investment in the productivity of the workforce implies social investment in families, to help increase female labour market participation and to adapt family policies to help reconcile work and family life.

The shift towards social investment takes us into a larger terrain of public policy, far beyond the traditional social policy concerns with social insurance, wage bargaining, employment regulation, and active labour market policies (Iversen and Stephens, 2008). The most obvious ones concern female employment opportunities and early childhood education and wellbeing. The number of single-parent households increased over time in most EU countries (Eurostat, 1991, 2001) and dual-earner households are better able to cushion the negative consequences of the short-term unemployment of a family member (Marx, 2007). Poverty however, has long-term consequences for the development of children and their achievement throughout the life course, as well as for the health and the productivity of their parents. Social investments aim to enable citizens to help themselves across the life cycle with the support of three pillars: robust families, gender equality, and educational attainment. Below I will focus first on spending levels on social investment across EU Member States. Next, I try to assess social investment performance in terms of family wellbeing, gender equality, and educational attainment.

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