Issue, No.20 (December 2021)

2nd (LIS)2ER workshop “Policies to Fight Inequality: The Case of Work-life Reconciliation and Family Policies”

by Marie Valentova (Luxemburg Institute of Socio-economic Research (LISER), University of Luxembourg), and Merve Uzunalioglu (Luxemburg Institute of Socio-economic Research (LISER), UCL)

Family policies are crucial in easing the often-competing responsibilities between work and family when young children are present. Work-life reconciliation policies aim to contribute to the achievement of gender equality by promoting the participation of women in the labour market, equal division of caring responsibilities between men and women and the closing of the gender gap in earnings, income and pensions benefits. In the light of the ongoing demographic changes, mainly the ageing population, and increasing pressure of the public expenditure, the needs for informal care and for a more efficient balancing between work and family obligations are on the rise.

Against this background, LIS Cross-national Data Center in Luxembourg and the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER) convened the second international workshop of the (LIS)2ER initiative. The workshop was entitled “Policies to Fight Inequality: The Case of Work-life Reconciliation and Family Policies”, and took place on November 25th – 26th 2021 in Belval, Luxembourg.

Acknowledging the diversity of work-life balance policies and research studying the how, why, and what of these entitlements, this workshop focused on two interrelated family policies: provision of care for young children and parental leave, and aimed to discuss inequalities as causes and consequences at three levels: inequalities in access due to eligibility rules, inequalities in use due to (un)affordability of the right, and unintended consequences of the given right.

The workshop offered a space to discuss novel insights on inequalities related to work-life reconciliation policies. Scholars had the opportunity to unite and exchange ideas. As the work-life reconciliation and family policies are themes which lie at the intersection of different scientific domains such as the labour market, unpaid labour, families, households, life-course and child development, the workshop was truly in a multidisciplinary nature. During the two days, an array of studies crossing borders between economics, sociology, demography and policy evaluation and analyses and covering different geographical regions were presented by senior as well as junior scholars. In this context, LIS data turned out as a pivotal mutual source for comparative research.

The workshop was opened by the director of LISER Aline Muller, director of LIS Peter Lanjouw and Philippe Van Kerm (UNI LUX, LISER). The academic programme consisted of eight presentations grouped into three thematic sessions. The first session was dedicated to the inequalities in access to work-family reconciliation policies, where special attention was paid to the regional level. Mara Yerkes (the Utrecht University) presented the analyses of the care policies in local settings, namely on the municipal regulation and provision of care services in four European countries. Agnes Blome (WZB Berlin) explored the issues of changing attitudes and childcare policy reforms in the Federal States of Germany.

The second thematic session covered the inequalities in the usage of work-life reconciliation polices. Merve Uzunalioglu (LISER, UCL) presented a paper exploring usage of parental leave, and, in particular, the duration of fathers’ parental leave use in Luxembourg from the perspective of intra-household dynamics. Wim Van Lancker (KU Leuven) focused on the inequality in childcare use and presented a comprehensive summary of the existing evidence and the remaining gaps in the existing knowledge regarding this topic.

The third thematic session dealt with the unintended consequences of family policies. Despite the declared intentions of work-family reconciliation policies to narrow the gaps and decrease social inequalities, there is a growing evidence that some policy designs or policy mixes may unintentionally reproduce or mitigate some social inequalities. Four presentations elaborated on this important and often neglected issue. Ann-Zofie Duvander (Stockholm University) explored the consequence of the parental leave usage and its’ patterns in a couple in Sweden on parents’ labour market participation. Hyojin Seo (KU Leuven) also touched on the issues of unintended labour market consequences of family policies, conducting a cross-country comparative study analysing the impact of family policies on the feminization of labour market outsiders. Pia Schober (University of Tübingen) and Christina Gathmann (LISER) focused on the situation in Germany and described unintended consequences for social inequalities in work-care arrangements, particularly in the provision and prices of childcare.

The keynote lecture was delivered by Rense Nieuwenhuis (Stockholm University). In his speech, Rense Nieuwenhuis presented a research agenda for incorporating family policy (and a perspective on family diversity) into analyses of vertical economic inequality. This agenda is based on the following questions (1.) Who uses family policy?, (2.) to What income effect?, and (3.) with Whom do they live? He also reflected on what is needed to realize this agenda empirically and assessed what role(s) the LIS database can play to achieve this.

Due to the very high policy relevance of the topic of this 2nd (LIS)2ER workshop and all the invited presentations, the organizers of the workshop decided to augment the possible societal impact of this event by closing it with a policy roundtable. The roundtable was entitled “Looking ahead: How to go forward with work-life reconciliation policy in Luxembourg and Europe?” and was led by Margaret O’Brien (UCL), who moderated the discussion with the invited policy practitioners and policy experts: Kamil Dörfler, European Investment Bank (EIB), Ralph Kass, The Ministry of Equality between Women and Men (MEGA), Lucie Waltzer, The Ministry of Education, Children and Youth (MENJE), Marie Valentova, LISER and Audrey Bousellin, LISER. The discussions were centred around several themes dealing with a disproportionate negative impact on mothers’ jobs, livelihoods, and caring responsibilities during the COVID19 pandemic; implementation and challenges of the Work-Life Balance (WLB) Directive of 2019 in Europe and Luxembourg; the complementarity of work, ECEC and other family and the cultural readiness in Luxembourg for a “Nordic turn” to increase compensation levels so fathers can share more leave with mothers.

This workshop was the second international workshop in the realm of the (LIS)2ER initiative, an institutional collaboration between two actors in Luxembourg’s research landscape facilitated by the Luxembourg Ministry of Higher Education and Research.

Organising Committee Petra Sauer (LIS, LISER) Marie Valentova (LISER) Philippe Van Kerm (LISER, University of Luxembourg) Merve Uzunalioglu (LISER, UCL).