Poverty in households with children is rising in
nearly all OECD countries. Governments should ensure that family support
policies protect the most vulnerable, according to the OECD’s first-ever report
on family well-being.
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.
The share of children living in poor households
has risen in many countries over the past decade, to reach 12.7% across the
OECD. One in five children in Israel, Mexico, Turkey, the United States and
Poland live in poverty. (The OECD defines poor as someone living in a household
with less than half the median income, adjusted for family size).
The ratio of Irish children in poor households is
“Family benefits need to be well
designed to maintain work incentives, but they need to be effective in
protecting the most vulnerable, otherwise we risk creating high, long-term
social costs for future generations,” said OECD
Secretary-General Angel Gurría.
The report documents how families across the OECD
have changed dramatically in just a generation. With fertility rates dropping
from 2.2 children per woman to 1.7 over the past three decades, families are
getting smaller. Fewer people are getting married and among those that are,
divorce rates are rising.
Women are better educated than ever before, and
overtaking men in the process: more than one- third of women under 35 have now
completed a university education (compared to just over 20% twenty years ago).
There are more dual-earner than one-earner couple
families in almost every country. Female employment in the OECD has risen in the
past 15 years by more than 10 percentage points, from just over half of women
working in the mid-1990s to nearer 60% in 2009.
Further increases in women’s employment would
help address the challenges of population ageing, but may be difficult to
achieve unless men help out more with housework and caring responsibilities (on
average women do 2½ hours more work in the home than men). Even in Iceland,
where fathers take the most leave, still only one-third of parental leave days
Changing family structures, lower fertility rates and ageing
populations have led to a growing share of households without children. In all
OECD countries, except Canada, Chile, Mexico and Ireland, over half of
households do not include children.
In Asian, Nordic, and southern European countries, men and women
work predominantly full-time. By contrast, in the Netherlands and Switzerland,
but also in Australia, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand and the United Kingdom,
much of the increase in female employment has been on a part-time basis, adding
to the job satisfaction of most of these workers, but often with negative
consequences on career progression.
Most OECD countries, except Ireland and, until recently, New
Zealand, have made parental income support conditional on job-search and other
participation commitments once the youngest child has reached compulsory school
In 2009, the TFR (total fertility rate) was around the
replacement rate in Ireland, Mexico, Turkey and New Zealand, and it was above
replacement level in Iceland (2.2) and Israel (3.0).
The OECD recommends that governments should:
- 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
- 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
“More family-friendly workplaces, equal
career prospects for men and women, and a better sharing of care
responsibilities not only make economic sense, they are a moral and political
imperative,” said Gurría.
The Paris based Organisation for Economic
Cooperation and Development is a think-tank for 34 mainly developed countries.
OECD member countries are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, the Czech
Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland,
Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New
Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden,
Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. The European
Commission takes part in the work of the OECD.