Varieties of Liberalism? A Comparative Analysis of Family Policy & Poverty Outcomes across the 50 United States

Monday, 16 July 2018: 19:45
Oral Presentation
Rosa VON GLEICHEN, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Zachary PAROLIN, Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp, Belgium
The comparative family policy literature tends to assume uniformity in the United States’ liberal family policy. This dominant perspective, however, overlooks the decentralization of and immense subnational heterogeneity in family policies across the 50 states. Thus, this paper systematically investigates the extent to which a family’s ability to achieve financial recourse from the welfare state or market varies across the United States. The analysis then demonstrates that such variation helps to explain differences in family employment and poverty outcomes across the U.S.

To arrive at these findings, we first compare policies related to social assistance, access to health insurance, potential gains from minimum wage employment, publically-supported childcare and pre-Kindergarten programs, and paid family leaves across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Differences are aggregated into an ‘index of defamilization’ based on relative generosity and accessibility of the policies offered. We apply the resulting index into an analysis of poverty and employment outcomes among households with children across the 50 states. A cross-sectional, multi-level model using the CPS ASEC demonstrates that families living in states with more generous sets of family policies are less likely to live in poverty and less likely to engage in low-wage employment (after controlling for other household and macroeconomic characteristics).

Contrary to the dominant perspective of a uniform ‘liberal’ welfare state within the U.S., the results corroborate our hypothesis that ‘Varieties of Liberalism’ exist, and that this variation matters in examining social outcomes. Though comparative family policy often assumes that the U.S. does not encourage families to turn to the state for support, many states do appear to offer relatively generous state provision. Future research into American family policy should take into account state-level variation in order to more appropriately represent U.S. family policy in the context of ‘Varieties of Liberalism.’