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Policy Insights

Services Over Cash


To reconcile work and family is to improve gender and socioeconomic equality. This means the type of intervention will be just as important as its generosity. Take cash benefits for care services. Intended to provide families with flexibility, evidence suggests they subtly incentivise families to fall back on traditional divisions of household labour. Given cash, families, especially poorer families, tend to engage in more home care for their children. In Norway, in line with traditional gender roles, this led to women taking longer leave to care for their young children or working fewer hours—perpetuating their labour market disadvantage. Services, however, offer no such temptation. High-quality, publicly funded childcare services—whether day care or home help—equally free both mothers’ and fathers’ hands for paid work. So-called “meals on wheels” services do the same for caregiving sons and daughters of frail, elderly parents. In the end, what is temporarily lost in flexibility is more than returned in enduring parity. Work-family reconciliation is about equality. So let’s talk about “how” first. Then we can talk about “how much”.

Pearl Dykstra, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands, and Member of the EU Commission’s High Level Group of Scientific Advisors