Canadian Family Policies: Cross-National Comparisons


466 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-7786-2
DDC 362.82'56'0971




Reviewed by Elaine G. Porter

Elaine Porter is an associate professor of sociology at Laurentian


This book is more than a compendium of social policies in Canada,
Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom,
and the United States. It is also a compilation of reasons for differing
levels of generosity in family policies. These are both formidable
tasks, given differing family definitions by political ideology and by
policymakers within countries as well as the historical variations in
family trends across countries. Baker deftly handles both concerns by
making visible the differences both in definition of families and in
their historical variation that are behind the social policies discussed
throughout the book. Her focus is on the political decisionmaking
differences among countries, and her consideration of policies extends
to those operating in the workplace.

The first chapter outlines her analysis of state–family
interrelationships and provides a demographic overview of all eight
countries, along with a cursory analysis of policymaking jurisdictions.
The second chapter provides a Canada-centric overview of family trends,
which serves as the backdrop for the rest of her analyses. Other
chapters discuss family-oriented policies under the titles “Poverty,
Labour Markets and Social Assistance,” “Child Allowances and Family
Tax Concessions,” “Maternity/Parental Leave and Benefits,”
“Child Care Delivery and Support,” “Child Protection, Family
Violence, and Substitute Care,” and “Divorce Laws, Child Custody and
Child Support.” Her final chapter is rather eclectic: it both acts as
a summary and sets out to measure the effectiveness of family and social
policies with five criteria, all of which are largely indicators of
children’s well-being.

Baker’s political discourse is anchored somewhere left of centre, and
she borrows from both liberal and socialist feminist perspectives. The
unity in her analyses comes from her underlying concern for children’s
welfare and her impatience with the partial solutions that North
American governments provide for individual and family welfare. Overall,
her political analyses are stronger than her feminist analyses. Her
discussion of family allowance versus tax incentives is one of the
strongest chapters in the book because it provides comparative data on
the effectiveness of both in reducing poverty. In contrast, she has not
included any discussion of the debate over same-sex relationships, and
she argues that changes to families in the past several decades justify
a continued focus on heterosexual relationships, the major change being
a shift toward common-law relationships (which, she argues, are similar
in purpose to marital relationships).

According to Baker, the Swedish and European countries represent our
demographic future but not our social-policy landscape unless we develop
the political will to change our political structures and processes
accordingly. Her book gives us some tools for analyzing the consequences
of our current social policies as well as the dire consequences of any
movement toward a U.S. model of social policy. Not a theoretical review,
this book brings a vast amount of policy-oriented research to the
author’s call to examine the entire panoply of social policies,
including employment policies, before we are forced into it by dint of
population aging.


Baker, Maureen., “Canadian Family Policies: Cross-National Comparisons,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 17, 2024,