The Myth of an Adult Worker Society: New Policy Discourses in European Welfare States

  • Trine P. Larsen


Mobilising the female workforce has been a political goal in Europe since the early 1990s. Women were seen as a hidden workforce that could take up the newly created jobs and help release the pressure on European welfare states caused by economic recession, rising unemployment rates, demographic changes and escalating social expenditure costs (Rees, 1998: 178). New policies were needed to pursue the policy goal, since much welfare, gender contracts and labour market policy was based on the male breadwinner model (Rees, 1998: 179). This chapter reviews the recent welfare reforms intended to enhance women’s participation in paid work and considers how far they are likely to be successful in promoting genuine equality in terms of policy outcome. It argues that national governments primarily emphasise policies on work-family balance issues, aimed at mobilising the female workforce while neglecting reforms aimed at promoting equal opportunities for men and women in the labour market and the domestic sphere. By neglecting the latter political agenda, national governments fail to change the underlying ideals and perceptions of gender relations within their own policies and society. They, therefore, fail to legitimise their adult worker model, as their policies lack incentives for an equal sharing of the provider and the carer role. As a result, recent reforms tend to be dominated by a discourse that relegates women to live a role of secondary rather than equal worker.


Trade Union Gender Equality Parental Leave Traditional Gender Role Gender Segregation 
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© Trine P Larsen 2005

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  • Trine P. Larsen

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