ECEC Discourses in England, Germany, Japan and Korea: Framing the Departure from the Male-Breadwinner Ideology
Childcare and early education (ECEC) policies, along with other 'work-family' measures, have been widely seen to signify a departure from assumptions based on male-breadwinner model families that had underpinned social policy since welfare states’ origins. Against this background of shifting assumptions about what policies for families and children are supposed to achieve, policymakers in many countries have framed ECEC expansion as ‘social investment’. Yet there is large variation in the way that ECEC policies have been expanded and different outcomes in terms of sufficient availability of ECEC, the weight of public and private provision, the adequacy of state subsidies of costs and the educational quality of ECEC institutions. This paper examines this expansion in four countries spanning different welfare regimes in Europe and East Asia, and in which the ideological shifts away from assumptions based on male-breadwinner model families have been particularly stark: England, Germany, Japan and South Korea. Given that this was a period of shifting assumptions about families and family policies, we argue that both the content and the success of social investment discourses were important factors. More specifically, in the two countries whose reforms were less comprehensive, England and Japan, social investment framing was primarily located in one policy area: child development. On the other hand, in the two countries which saw wider reforms, Germany and South Korea, the concept of social investment was considered more broadly, and explicitly included female employment and demographic aims. In the latter two countries, the social investment discourse helped achieve a consensus on raising social expenditure as part of the national agenda, whereas in England and Japan, social investment framing was not able to subsume more pressing policy concerns into a coherent and dominant social investment discourse.