Who benefits? The social distribution of subsidized childcare in Sweden and Flanders

TitleWho benefits? The social distribution of subsidized childcare in Sweden and Flanders
Publication TypeInternational peer-reviewed journal article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsVan Lancker, W., & Ghysels J.
JournalActa Sociologica
Date Published05/2012

The main goal of this article is to unravel the social distribution of childcare policies: Who benefits from government investment in public childcare? The analysis complements earlier research on the distribution of social policy outcomes and confronts the growing concern over selectivity. By nature, childcare services tend to be used mainly by people in work, i.e. those in higher income brackets. Concern therefore arises about the consequences of increasing childcare budgets for the overall distribution of the benefits of social policy. This relates to the immediate outcome of social policy (net family income), but also to its increasingly central component: labour market participation. Indeed, if childcare actually benefits ‘labour market insiders’ only, one may wonder whether it is effective as an instrument activating mothers with young children. In this contribution, we look into the distributional impact of subsidized childcare for two countries (Flanders/Belgium and Sweden) already reaching the Barcelona targets for under 3s and interpret the results in a European perspective. Although both cases report high coverage rates, we find that Sweden and Flanders have different – even opposite – distributional outcomes. Both examples provide us with valuable lessons on the redistributive nature of ‘new risk policies’ and the effectiveness of childcare as an instrument of labour market activation.

Keywordschildcare, family policy, labour market activation, redistribution, social expenditure, subsidies, work–family conflict
Citation Key3277
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