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This article goes in search of contemporary maternalism in European social policy. It first undertakes a review of both the meaning and forms of maternalism querying how scholarship and policy framed maternalism in Europe and, secondly, assesses its significance in today’s European welfare state. The article argues that maternalism has been crowded out from the analysis of contemporary social policy by a host of other concepts and frameworks that downgrade gender equality. However, maternalism continues to have relevance and application in policy. It is a different–less explicit–maternalism as compared with the past. The maternalism that we see today is more implicit in the sense that it is the result of a new familialism which emphasises both women’s and men’s changed roles but in a gender-neutral framing. The ‘problem’ as policy sees it is to get men more involved and active in the rearing of their children and the main way of doing that is not through major redistributive or other structural change measures but through a mild set of incentives oriented to cultural change. At the same time, women are being repositioned more centrally between family and employment but they have to do both. Policy now tends to speak in gender-neutral terms or, when it does use gender-specific terms. These lack any radical purchase.

Original publication




Journal article


Contemporary Social Science

Publication Date