16 Mar

Family policy as an institutional context of economic inequality

Women’s rising earnings have reduced economic inequality in recent decades. In a new publication in Acta Sociologica, I show together with Ariana Need and Henk van der Kolk how family policies played a role in supporting women’s earnings. The paper makes an argument that family policies – traditionally considered in analyses of gender inequality – should also be incorporated in ‘mainstream’ analyses of economic inequality among households.


It is demonstrated that family policies are an important aspect of the institutional context of earnings inequality among coupled households. Although seldom integrated into prominent analyses of economic inequality, women’s earnings are consistently found to reduce relative inequality among households. This means that family policies, as well-known determinants of women’s employment and earnings, are important contextual determinants of economic inequality. Using Luxembourg Income Study data from 18 OECD countries in the period 1981–2008, this study demonstrates that women have higher earnings, and that their earnings reduce inequality among coupled households more in institutional contexts with generous paid leave and public childcare. We found no sizeable association between financial support policies, such as family allowances and tax benefits to families with children, and the degree to which women’s earnings contribute to inequality among coupled households. Family policy arrangements that facilitate women’s employment and earnings are associated with less economic inequality among coupled households.

Nieuwenhuis, R., Need, A. & Van der Kolk, H. (2018). Family policy as an institutional context of economic inequality. Acta Sociologica. Forthcoming, online first: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0001699318760125

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