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  • The Family in Minimum Income Benefits in Europe:An Institutional Analysis
  • Patricia Frericks (bio), Ralf Och (bio), and Julia Höppner (bio)

Whether and to what extent the means of family members and familial care activities are relevant in the calculation of welfare benefits is often neglected in welfare state analysis. By quantifying qualitative institutional data, we analyze this aspect and how it has changed in regard to minimum-income benefits for persons of pension age and unemployed persons in ten European welfare states. We find no general trend toward individualization of entitlements but a decreasing relevance of family for the entitlements of persons of pension age, and increasing relevance for the unemployed. The evidence underlines significant differences between countries and family-related dimensions.


Social rights enable citizens to participate in democratic societies (Janoski 1998). In this regard minimum-income benefits (MIB) provide "the foundation of social citizenship" (Bahle, Hubl, and Pfeifer 2011, 2) because they guarantee a socially accepted minimum standard of living below which no one should fall (Leibfried 1992). Recently, MIB have gained new interest on the European political landscape as well as in academia because of the increase or the persistence of poverty in many European countries (e.g. Cantillon 2011; Marx and Nelson 2013).

The academic literature deals mostly with the general institutional features or the generosity and efficacy of MIB (Bahle, Hubl, and Pfeifer 2011; Cantillon and Vandenbroucke 2014). However, one aspect of welfare regulations in MIB has often been neglected: the degree to which family members' resources and care for family members are taken into account in the rules [End Page 615] governing means-tested benefits for persons of pension age and the unemployed. This is important to understanding the differences in access to social rights that depend on one's family situation.

In MIB, family resources are relevant in two ways: first, welfare regulations may demand that family members help maintain an MIB-recipient by incorporating their financial means into the means test; second, welfare regulations may reward a person for supplying care to a family member by easing their access to MIB or raising the amount they receive.

In this article, we analyze both aspects in order to understand the degree to which MIB regulations take family-related considerations into account in granting access and calculating benefits and how this factor has changed in the past three decades. We do this in a European comparative perspective. To undertake this original analysis, we developed a suitable method (Frericks, Höppner, and Och 2018) that we apply here to the welfare regulations on MIB for two important groups of beneficiaries of social security—persons of pension age and the unemployed.

In the following section, we review the literature on the connection between social rights and family in MIB, arguing in favor of the concept of individualization for the analysis of the extent to which family is relevant for MIB, instead of the more common concepts of decommodification and defamilialization. In the third part, we introduce our analytical and methodological approach by developing an original approach to the analysis of welfare institutions. The fourth section presents the findings. We show, firstly, that there is no general trend toward individualization, but a divergent pattern among the countries, and, secondly, that there are considerable differences in the degree of individualization between countries, policy fields, and family dimensions. In the fifth part, we discuss the findings with regard to welfare regimes, gender, generation, and the effects of the financial crisis. We conclude by arguing that the extent to which family is taken into account in calculating MIB is an important but often neglected aspect of welfare states.

Social Rights and the Family

The content of social rights, as Marshall (1950, 43) argued, "does not depend on the economic value of the individual claimant". MIB are an essential part of a "mandatory assistance" to ensure "minimal subsistence" as a social ("not strictly a legal") right of every individual or family in need (Marshall 1981, 85 and 92) in order to allow citizens to take part fully in social life (Bahle, Hubl, and Pfeifer 2011; Leibfried 1992; Marx and Nelson 2013).

The concept most frequently used to analyze...


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