Throughout Europe family structures and employment patterns have changed quite dramatically over the past 20 to 30 years. People are marrying later, having smaller families, experiencing marital breakdown, more couples are living together without marriage, more children are being born outside marriage, there are more elderly people, and more people living alone. In the labour market there has been a continuing decline in full-time, full-year, life-time employment. New jobs are more likely to be part-time, temporary or seasonal. More people are self-employed. As families and jobs are becoming less secure foundations of financial support more pressure is being put on governments, and in particular, on welfare expenditure. There are more people in need of care and support, and fewer people to fund it. What should be the role of the family, and what the role of government, in meeting these increasing needs? How much should family members be expected to provide for each other? And how far should governments go in enforcing obligations between family members?
The continuing controversies over issues such as community care, day care for children, financial support for young people, and child support, all illustrate the difficulties and dilemmas involved in striking the right balance between family support and state provision. Using a network of national respondents in 16 European countries (the 15 EU members, and now Norway), the study looks at three areas of policy (family law, social security benefits and social care services) and three types of relationship (partnerships, parenting and caring). It compares the ways in which family obligations are defined in law and policy: who is defined as having responsibility for whom, and what are they responsible for. It concludes by asking whether there are common trends towards new definitions of family obligations in the context of changing family and employment patterns, changing gender roles and the restructuring of welfare states.