Policies to Reconcile Labor Force Participation and Childbearing in the European Union


A recently published report commissioned by the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of the European Commission reviews “reconciliation” policies in 30 European countries. Such policies are defined by the report in its title as measures that foster “reconciliation of work and private life” or, more elaborately in the body of the report, as “policies that directly support the combination of professional, family and private life.” In this context work means gainful employment, while private life in effect means childbearing. The countries covered are those of the EU 25, two candidate countries (Bulgaria and Romania), and three countries that are part of the European Economic Area (Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein). The report, not formally endorsed by the Commission, was prepared by the EU Expert Group on Gender, Social Inclusion and Employment. Each of the 30 countries was represented by at least one expert. The 96-page report identifies four types of reconciliation policies: childcare services, leave facilities, flexible working-time arrangements, and financial allowances. Descriptions of these policies from the Executive Summary are reproduced below. The full report is accessible at «http://bookshop.eu.int/eubookshop/FileCache/PUBPDF/KE6905828ENC/KE6905828ENC_002.pdf».

Although the report makes passing reference to below-replacement fertility in the EU member countries, its focus is clearly directed to measures that could increase the rate of employment, especially female employment. According to the EU's “Lisbon targets” set in 2000, the female employment rate in the EU should be raised to 60 percent of the working-age population by 2010. Based on data for 2003, only eight EU countries have met or exceeded this target. Childbearing is seen as in part responsible for the shortfall. Reconciliation policies could make the Lisbon target for female employment more easily achievable and “especially stimulate full time participation.” Furthermore, the report suggests, such policies, as a byproduct, could also enhance fertility.

Financial allowances, paid directly to families with children, the fourth type of policy discussed by the report, include measures reminiscent of the main thrust of the newly announced proposals for increasing fertility in Russia (see the preceding Documents item in this issue). The report, however, makes no reference to differentiation by parity, a distinctive mark of pronatalist intent. Indeed, it specifies that “family-based tax concessions and family allowances are not part of the reconciliation policy per se,” noting, with an apparent element of disapproval, that such provisions “are often based on (and may reinforce the notion of) a traditional breadwinner model by reducing the incentive to work for both spouses.”