Families in Europe: Ideology and Realities

The objective of the study is two-fold: (1) to produce a systematic description of the idea of the ‘European family’ or the ‘European family ideology’ and (2) to produce a versatile picture of families in Europe.

The objectives are essential and mutually important in understanding the role and significance of the family in Europe and in evaluating the effect of the implicit policies targeting families. Second, they are paramount for the development of the theory of family and for (re)establishing the analysis of the family as social institution and as a mediating structure between the individual and society. Furthermore, nowadays, the society should not be understood only in terms of nation and national boundaries but also in terms of international frameworks. Thus, studying the family in the European Union level provides much needed and still largely lacking knowledge on the linkage between international political and economic frameworks and family realities in different societies.

The study is comparative and macro-sociological study on family institution in Europe applying the methodological approach of case-oriented comparison studying several variables within few cases. The selected cases represent old and new EU member states and different types of European welfare states (Finland, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Poland). The ‘European family ideology’ is studied by analysing documents, reports and recommendations of European Commission and the bodies of the European Union, the focus being in documents concerning social protection and the labour market. On the empirical level, families in Europe are studied by analysing international socio-demographic statistics (Eurostat, OECD, UN) and survey data (ISSP 2002, ESS 2000/2003 and EVS 1999-2001) concerning the cases in question. To interpret country-specific experiences and processes behind the phenomena of interest, the study will also compare the main social developments in countries in question in order to understand the differences and similarities in familial practices and behind the demographic trends.

Both theoretical and practical findings result from the project: (1) Focusing on the family ideology at the EU level provides a description of the conception of the family that guides the political strategies within the EU and in member states. (2) Analysing the cases in order to see what kind of families really exist in Europe and comparing the family reality with the ideology reveals how well the ideology and reality correspond to each other. (3) The study provides much needed knowledge on differences and similarities between ‘East’ and ‘West’ European societies and their family institutions, and enables the critical interrogation of popular stereotypes. (4) The study develops the methodology and theory of family research as well as European studies, and it contributes to and further develops the macro-level analysis of the family.

Most important publication:

Oinonen, Eriikka (2008) Families in Converging Europe. A Comparison of Forms, Structures and Ideas. Palgrave Studies in family Sociology. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire & New York: Palgrave Macmillan.