No. 31




Family Policy in the Small Transition Society of Estonia

10 June 2015


RiTo No. 31, 2015

  • Kaire Põder

    Tallinn University of Technology, Senior Researcher; Estonian Business School (EBS), Professor

  • Triin Lauri

    Tallinn University, Doctoral Candidate and Lecturer, Tallinn University of Technology, Junior Researcher

  • Karmo Kroos

    Estonian Business School (EBS), Lecturer; Tallinn University of Technology, Junior Researcher

The family policy of the small transition society of Estonia is far from a new Nordic country of our dreams. Within the framework of the developing market economy and the changes underway in its stratifiation system, the understandings of family prevailing in the society have taken unusual forms that are not similar to either those of the Nordic countries or those the old Europe.

It seems that the understandings of the society and its members on the division of gender roles are autochthonous in regard to long-term policies. However, from the standpoint of the existence of a small nation state it is important to ask about the possible role of family policy measures in escaping the trap characterised on the one hand by modest birth rate indicators and, on the other, a relatively weak position of women in the labour market.

To achieve clarity in this issue, we used the comparative fuzzy set method in our analysis which enables to obtain similar results through different paths. In other words, this method is based on the presumption that there is no “one and only” good or bad set of policy measures, but certain combinations of different measures become important for success. The results allow to say that, even in the case of the Nordic countries (such as Iceland, Finland and Sweden where success has been achieved primarily by contributing to the involvement of fathers and the quality of childcare), the family policy paths are relatively varying.

To improve birth rate, Estonia has contributed largely to the parental benefi system which is relatively generous also in international comparison (especially as regards high-salaried women). As is characteristic of liberal societies that stress individual contribution, this benefi depends on previous salary income and is not solidary. Generously compensated mothers are obviously not satisfid even when the price of their childcare is compensated to the extent of three average salaries and they return to work. This can be inferred from the tendency where “middle class” families are more prone to get trapped in the generous compensation. This also means that women stay away from the labour market for long periods and lose in terms of career and income. They also fid themselves in an unequal position in domestic role division which makes them voluntarily contribute more to chores that are not compensated directly.

The emphasising of the importance of the caretaking obligation of the state on the example of the Nordic countries may give an erroneous impression that, in the opinion of the authors, families should be released from any caretaking obligation whatsoever because it is a bundle of underpaid activities that creates inequality (in the comparison of families with children as well as families without children). Such unidimensionality (where “defamilisation” means “progressive” organisation of life) does not allow for weighing of other components: (1) whether “defamilisation” has been done through the market or the state; (2) what the division of the remaining care obligations between men and women is like; and fails to ask (3) whether families wish such a policy at all. Thus, the abovementioned analysis was based on the main components of family policy: benefis and the structure thereof, and the state supply of childcare places, in order to fid successful family policy patterns. There are certainly other established rules of the game that were not included in the analysis and that may strongly inflence the results of the combining of policies. The analysis of these important family policy components will have to wait for future research.

Full article in Estonian