Family Policy Paradoxes: Gender equality and labour market regulation in Sweden, 1930-2010, by Åsa Lundqvist

Policy Press, 2011, viii + 155 pp, hbk, 1 847 42455 6, £65

The Nordic countries provide generous gender-neutral parental leave and benefits and also publicly-funded childcare, and the result is an unusual combination of high fertility and high female labour market participation. This book is a detailed study of family policy in Sweden, particularly in relation to two paradoxes: that policy promotes both mothers as carers in the home and as workers in the labour market, and that men and women are regarded as both different and equal.

The book is a study of how Swedish social policy relating to the family has arrived at its present state and of more recent developments which have been driven in different directions by a greater individualisation in society (and thus defamiliarisation) and an understanding of women as disadvantaged within the family. Most recently, a reintroduction of a benefit for carers at home, and the introduction of labour market incentives for women, have exacerbated the paradoxicality of the situation.

As the concluding section of the book suggests, the fundamental paradox is between equality and freedom of choice. We might put it like this: How to preserve radical gender freedom in the face of government policies aimed at equality in the labour market? And how to preserve gender equality in the face of government legislation designed to give to carers freedom over how they organise their households and their labour market participation? These are vital questions for any government, and are thus an essential field of debate for anyone promoting debate on social policy reform.

This is a well-researched and thought-provoking book.