OECD releases "first ever" report on families

The OECD, an alliance of richer countries, released its “first
ever report on family well-being” this week, according to a press release. Considering
that it has existed for 50 years, one wants to know what took it so long. Hopefully, this
step means that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development now
realises that a sound economy depends ultimately on the health of the family
unit.

Doing
Better for Families
says that families with children are more likely to be
poor today than in previous decades, when the poorest in society were more
likely to be pensioners. More people are childless and more couples with children are both in paid work.

The press
release
goes on to talk about family benefits, “change” in the family
(fewer children, non-marriage, divorce), the rise in female higher education
and employment, the need for men to help more in the home, childcare,
family-friendly workplaces -- in short, all the familiar trends.

It is interesting, however, that major media today have published
an AP story
about the report that highlights its figures on family
breakdown (“change”):

One in four children in the United States is being raised by
a single parent — a percentage that has been on the rise and is higher than
other developed countries, according to a report released Wednesday.

Of the 27 industrialized countries studied by the
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. had 25.8
percent of children being raised by a single parent, compared with an average
of 14.9 percent across the other countries.

Ireland was second (24.3 percent), followed by New Zealand
(23.7 percent). Greece, Spain, Italy and Luxemborg had among the lowest
percentages of children in single-parent homes.

There is a huge challenge in those figures, and it is not
clear that the OECD’s main recommendations to governments will address it.
These are:

* Ensure that work pays for both parents, including through
assistance with childcare costs.

* Help families combine work and care commitments, through
an integrated set of leave, care and workplace support for parents of young
children.

* Design parental leave systems that encourage more fathers
to take and share leave and promote their engagement with homecare
responsibilities.

* Start investing in family policies during the early years
and sustain investment throughout childhood.

* Ensure high-quality childcare services are linked to
improved cognitive development, especially for children from poor households.

The first chapter of the report (the only one free to the
public) is called Families are changing and
contains material on family structure and child poverty. It notes as “a
particular worry that
in most OECD countries, poverty risks have shifted over the past 20 years
towards families with children…” A major reason for this is the steady increase
in sole parent households.

“The economic vulnerability of families is linked to
parents’ incapacity to reconcile employment and parenthood,” says the report. Joblessness
is the main cause of poverty, but, of course, that is more likely where there is only
one parent, usually the mother. And although the report refrains from any value
judgements -- other than the assumption that poverty is evil -- it does
acknowledge that two parents are better than one:

“Given that joblessness greatly increases the chances of a
household being poor, couple households can act as a protection for children
against poverty as such households are less likely to be jobless.”

Unfortunately, projections up to 2025-2030 suggest that in
almost all countries sole parent households will continue to increase both in
absolute numbers and as a proportion of all households with children.

Austria, Netherlands, Switzerland and United States are the
countries expecting the lowest increases in sole-parent families (8 to 10%).
Germany stands out as the one exception with a projected decrease in
sole-parent numbers of 16% by 2025 – the effect of a rise in divorce and
separations being unlikely to substantially mitigate that of declining numbers
of children.

On the other hand, some countries will feel the effect of
this trend much more:

For example in Australia, Japan and New Zealand sole-parent
families’ share of all family households with children could reach well over
30% (up from 28%, 22% and 31% respectively in the mid-2000s). By contrast, in
Austria, Germany and Switzerland shares are expected to range between 17% and
19%, showing little change since the mid-2000s.

Cash benefits for families already make up more than 40 per cent of
all public spending in most OECD countries. The report urges better provision
for those with elevated poverty risk, such as sole parent and jobless
households. 

There’s a lot more to this report, but indications are that
it works around the fact of family breakdown rather than addressing it as the
main thing that needs changing.

You can check out "Five family facts" about your country here.

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