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Farewell to Maternalism: Welfare Reform, Liberalism, and the End of Mothers' Right to Choose Between Employment and Full-time Care


  • Ann Shola Orloff


The 1996 welfare system reform is widely recognized as a turning point, which might be characterized as the ending of the maternalist strand of U.S. social policy that dates back to the 1910s and 1920s. Less noticed, but potentially as significant, has been the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which assists poor employed parents; here one may identify the expansion of the employment-based strand of U.S. social policy. I assess how welfare reform and the more incremental changes in the EITC have changed the gen-dered character of social policy, or gender policy regime. I offer an analysis of this change, making use of a feminist policy regime frame-work I developed in a 1993 paper. This conceptualizes the dimen-sions of social policy regimes as the character of social provision in terms of social rights versus discretionary social assistance, the institutional relationships among state, market, and family, and the patterns of stratification shaped by social provision. Welfare reform itself should be understood as incorporating at least three components: (1) it eliminates a social right, while eliminating caregiving as a base for making claims within the U.S. welfare state; (2) it expands the role of the market in the provision of income and care; and (3) it marks a shift toward gender "sameness" in that institutionalized expectations for mothers no longer are distin-guished from those for fathers‹both are required to be in employ-ment, and programmatic distinctions now follow lines of differenti-ation in labor markets, rather than a family/employment dualism. Meanwhile, the expansion of the EITC reinforces these changes from a more positive direction: It channels resources to poor parents, but only if they are employed, linking support to caregiving to labor market participation for both men and women. These changes have important implications for the future gender politics of social policy.

Suggested Citation

  • Ann Shola Orloff, "undated". "Farewell to Maternalism: Welfare Reform, Liberalism, and the End of Mothers' Right to Choose Between Employment and Full-time Care," IPR working papers 00-7, Institute for Policy Resarch at Northwestern University.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:nwuipr:00-7

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