Beyond the ‘train-first’/‘work-first’ dichotomy: How welfare states help or hinder maternal employment

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Since the mid-1990s, welfare states have introduced various ‘activation’ policies designed to promote employment. Most typologies distinguish between a Nordic-style ‘train-first’ approach focused on developing jobseekers’ employability and an Anglo-Saxon ‘work-first’ approach that instead emphasises quick job (re-)entry. These typologies tell us what activation means for the unemployed (male) worker. However, by ignoring the family, they overlook what activation means for the (female) parent-worker with childcare responsibilities. To contribute to filling this gap, this article uses fuzzy-set ideal-type analysis to compare 22 countries representing five ‘worlds’ of welfare by how (de-)activating their labour market policies, parental leave provisions, childcare services and the scheduling of primary education are for lone mothers. It reveals that cross-national variations in support for maternal activation are not well captured by the Nordic-style ‘train-first’/Anglo-Saxon ‘work-first’ dichotomy. Hence, despite the greater attention to gender and ‘new social risks’ within comparative social policy scholarship in recent years, the activation literature remains gender-blind.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-24
JournalJournal of European Social Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


  • active labour market policies
  • Childcare
  • lone parents
  • mothers' employment
  • typologies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Gender Studies


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