Theorizing Inequality: Comparative Policy Regimes, Gender, and Everyday Lives


Direct all correspondence to Mary K. Zimmerman, Department of Health Policy and Management, MS3044, University of Kansas Medical Center, 3901 Rainbow Blvd., Kansas City, KS 66160; e-mail:


Sociological explanations of inequality are incomplete unless they fully recognize the importance of social policy regimes, the policy logics embedded within them, and how policy arrangements work to stratify and shape daily lives. In this address, I develop my arguments by examining two overlapping struggles of everyday life in the contemporary United States: balancing work and family on the one hand, and securing health-care services, both formal medical care and informal family care, on the other. Both struggles involve care deficits that are significantly more serious in the United States than in other high-income countries, in part because our policy regime contributes to rather than counters the gendered roots of work–family conflict. Comparative studies hold a key to better understanding the link between policy regimes and everyday lives, as illustrated by the author's own comparative research in Finland and in the United States In terms of policies and policy logics that promote gender equity, paid parental leave for fathers has received much recent attention from social science scholars. Sociologists are challenged to become aware of comparative social policy scholarship and to approach inequalities and the related daily conflicts and struggles—such as over care deficits—by including this work in their analyses.