Family Policies and Family Well-Being: The Role of Political Culture


Shirley L. Zimmerman

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    edited by NEIL BRACHT

    FAMILY POLICIES AND FAMILY WELL-BEING: The Role of Political Culture








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    by PAUL G. SHANE



    SELF-HELP AND SUPPORT GROUPS: A Handbook for Practitioners







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    Although this book has been in the writing stage for a year, the discussion is a product of 5 years of research effort. At this time, I would like to express my thanks to Cathy Schultz, Mary Seabloom, Marjorie Schaffer, and Phyllis Owens. Mary Seabloom and Marjorie Schaffer assisted with the research reported in Chapters 4 and 6. Phyllis Owens assisted with the research in Chapter 5. Cathy Schultz was absolutely indispensable to the computer analysis of the data reported in Chapters 4 and 6.1 thank each of them; without their help, these various undertakings would have been made much more difficult, if not impossible.

    I also would like to thank my colleague and friend, Paul Rosenblatt, and my friend, Edwin Shneidman at UCLA, both of whom read and commented on the initial draft of the book. I am particularity grateful to Armand Lauffer whose encouragement and support helped to validate my conceptualization of the issues that I discuss in the book. The same is true of Marquita Flemming from Sage. Both made numerous helpful suggestions for improving my presentation of the issues, with Armand reading and commenting on manuscript drafts as often as these were sent to him. Both Armand's and Marquita's enthusiam helped me endure sitting at the computer for endless hours at a time over these months.

    I also would like to express my appreciation to the staff at the Census Bureau for their help in identifying and providing the historical data I needed for the analyses I discuss in Chapter 6. No matter with whom I spoke to at the Bureau during the data-gathering stage of the research, he or she was always helpful and pleasant. The same was true of the staff at the National Center for Health Statistics.

    But, of course, it is the people with whom one lives who have to bear the daily brunt of this kind of activity—living with someone who though physically present, often is psychologically absent, lost in a world of images on a screen. And so, I would like to thank again my spouse, Peter, who suffered through all this, for the second time now, especially during periods when the work was most intense. The same goes for our children and grandchildren and friends whose affection and understanding are important to me.

    Now that the writing is done, I hope my interpretation of the findings I report here makes sense to you. The research process that produced the findings was iterative in that as I found the answer to one quesion, it stimulated me to ask another related one. This started the process anew in terms of conceptualizing the question, operationalizing it, collecting the data needed to answer it, and then analyzing and interpreting the data. The results are what you see here.

    It is my hope that what I have reported here makes some small difference in the larger scheme of things, especially in attitudes toward government and government's relationship to individuals and families—which translates into the attitudes that each of us holds toward others.


    Introduction: Mapping the Book

    Together, we are about to engage in the exploration of the connections between family policies, individual and family well-being, and political culture. Political culture refers to the values and attitudes that people hold toward government and toward each other (McClosky & Zaller, 1984). In its broadest sense, family policy refers to everything that governments do that affect families (Zimmerman, 1988a). Family well-being as a family policy goal is a value criterion that can be used to assess and evaluate the effects of existing government policies on families and predict the family effects of policies that are still being considered but have not yet been adopted. Recent court rulings have broadened the definition of family so that it now includes many nontraditional arrangements that meet the functional, if not the structural, requirements of the term. Although only one of many definitions, family is defined here as an ongoing caring relationship between and among persons who assume responsibility for one another in sickness and in health, in good times and bad.

    During the course of this discussion, we will examine findings from several independent but related undertakings: a survey of family professionals living in states with different political cultures, comparing their attitudes toward governments' role in helping families; a content analysis of the family legislation enacted by three states with different political cultures, comparing their policy approaches to families; and an analysis of the relationship between states' policy approaches to families and individual and family well-being and the role of political culture in their relationship. All the studies were undertaken between 1985 and 1990. Except for the attitudinal study, which applies to a single point in time, these analyses cut across both time and states. Because each was undertaken independent of the other, the questions that guided them are different, as are their conceptual foundations. The theme that unifies them is the meaning of states' political culture for states' policy approaches to families and individual and family well-being:

    Although less common at the intranational level, the kinds of comparative analyses reported here are relatively common at the international level. They have been undertaken in examining cross-cultural differences in the well-being of people in different countries (Almond & Verba, 1963; 1989; Inglehart, 1990), the policy approaches of different countries to families (Kamerman & Kahn, 1978), and the economic effects of different countries' family policy approaches on different types of families (Smeeding & Torrey, 1988). More recently, Pechman and Englehardt (1991) compared the income tax treatment of families in different countries. However, like Dye (1966, 1990) who has undertaken several comparative analyses of states' policy efforts, I have found that such analyses are just as useful to do at the intranational level (Zimmerman, 1987,1988a, 1988b, 1988c, 1989, 1990,1991a, 1991b). Indeed, because of the Federal nature of our political system, the 50 states offer research conditions akin to a natural experiment. Because so much of American life is organized at the national level—the communications industry, the airlines industry, retail business and advertising, professional and other types of voluntary organizations, and so forth—differences among states tend to go unnoticed and unobserved. Exceptions to this, in addition to Dye (1966, 1990), are Linsky and Straus (1986) and Lammers and Klingman (1984). This discussion joins theirs in highlighting these differences while exploring the possibly larger meanings and implications of such differences.

    Family policy and families are defined in the first chapter. I also discuss issues surrounding changing family definitions as these intersect with family policy. It is here that you will become familiar with the terminology associated with family policy as outlined by Kamerman and Kahn (1976) and Zimmerman (1979; 1988a). Their writing highlights the different dimensions of family policy, and calls for a broad rather than a narrow approach to the subject. Appendix A includes a glossary of terms.

    Chapter 2 focuses on individual and family well-being as a value and family policy goal, and its importance: conceptually, philosophically, politically, and practically. I also present some theoretical explanations for individual and family well-being—stratification theory, expectation and aspiration-adjustment theory, resource theory, resource-need congruence and resource exchange theories—and different ways of measuring well-being at micro and macro levels. I also draw your attention to some of the interpretative frameworks from the family field that also can be used to operationalize the concept. These include the family systems, family stress, and family life-cycle frameworks, among others. Appendix B includes some items that can be used to assess individual and family well-being in your community or state, or the well-being of individuals and families served by agencies in your community.

    Political culture is discussed in the third chapter where I introduce the works of Almond and Verba (1963, 1989), Inglehart (1990), and McClosky and Zaller (1984) who studied the political culture of the United States. I also discuss the historical implications of the United States's political culture for its policy approach to families and for their well-being. Based on a typology developed by Daniel Elazar (1984), the chapter also highlights the distinguishing features of the political cultures of the 50 states: individualistic, moralistic, traditionalistic, and different mixes of the three. Appendix C includes Elazar's outline of the dominant value orientations associated with these political cultures, and could be used to analyze the political culture of your own state.

    Chapter 4 focuses on findings from a survey that aimed to determine the influence of political culture on attitudes toward government and families as domains of distributive choices and the distributive norms associated with these domains. The subjects were family professionals living in 23 different states selected on the basis of Elazar's (1984) typology of their states' political cultures. The context for the study was the divergent outcomes of policy choices for families with children and elderly members. Its theoretical perspective drew from theories of distributive justice as these pertained to the normative bases for distributive choices. The findings provided empirical evidence that attitudes toward governments' role in relation to families are associated with the political cultures of different states. Appendix D in Chapter 4 includes the statements that comprised the attitudinal scales on which the discussion of the chapter is based. These can be used to do a similar survey of attitudes in your community.

    Chapter 5 explores the connection between states' political cultures and their policy approaches to families. The conceptual framework for the discussion comes from Chapter 3 and Elazar's typology. The research itself was based on a content analysis of the family legislation enacted by three states—Nevada, Minnesota, and South Carolina—states uniquely different from one another in terms of political culture, thus allowing for comparisons to be made among them (Zimmerman & Owens, 1989). The years selected for the analysis were 1979, 1982 to 1983, and 1985, which are important historically for family policy developments in this country. The analysis makes clear that there is a relationship between states' political cultures and the kinds of family policies states enact. The substantive and functional categories that were developed for analyzing the family legislation of these states are outlined in the tables in the chapter. These categories may be useful in analyzing your state's policy approach to families also.

    Drawing on social integration theory, Chapter 6 makes clear the connections between states' policy approaches to families and individual and family well-being and the role of political culture in their relationship. The findings from these analyses also challenge the view that government social programs have been detrimental to family life. Individual and family well-being either was higher in states in which government played a more active role in meeting peoples' needs or was unaffected by it. Measures of individual and family well-being included states' suicide rates, teen birthrates, poverty rates, and divorce rates. States' policy choices were operationalized by states' per-capita public welfare expenditures but attention is paid to states' per-capita hospital expenditures and taxes as well. States' political cultures were measured by the percentage of state populations voting for Republican presidential candidates over the period of the analyses. The analyses covers 25 years of the recent past, years characterized by the expansion and contraction of the role of state and federal governments in human affairs. These include 1960, 1970, 1980, and 1985.

    The seventh and final chapter summarizes the findings from these studies and draws conclusions about the implications of a political culture that has grown increasingly individualistic for individual and family well-being. The conclusions form the basis not for projecting a detailed policy agenda to enhance the well-being of individuals and families, regardless of where they live, but for arriving at a few general principles to aid in the development of such an agenda and arrive at a consensus to support it.

    In addition to offering a few analytic tools, I hope this book will stimulate you, the reader, to think about some of the issues with which it deals, and to join me in challenging conventional wisdom about government's role in human affairs. Exercises are provided at the end of many chapters to encourage you to take the time to think more carefully about some of these issues. Although much of the material that I present is heavily research based, I hope that as you become familiar with the ideas that I discuss, you will catch some of the excitement that I experienced as I moved from one research question to another. Let us begin.

  • Appendix A: Glossary of Family Policy Terms

    Family—special relational ties reflecting need of individuals for stability, continuity, and unconditional affection; group of people closely related by blood, marriage or adoption, or who share a common ancestry; group whose members love and care for each other; two or more persons related by mutual expectations of emotional and material support, regardless of living arrangements, whose behaviors convey mutual responsibility, intimacy, and care on a continuing basis; two or more persons in a committed relationship from which they derive a sense of identity as a family; any ongoing social arrangement in which persons who care about and are committed to one another are able to have their basic psychological, social, physical, and economic needs met; cohabiting groups of some duration composed of persons in intimate relations based on biology, law, custom, or choice and usually economic interdependence

    family policy—a perspective that highlights the family dimensions of private and public actions; course of action designed to achieve family goals and objectives; choice in the pursuit and attainment of collectively agreed-upon goals and values in addressing family problems and alternative solutions to them; field of activity

    family policy; explicit—laws, legislation, and programs that have stated family objectives

    family policy; implicit—laws, legislation, and programs that affect families although their family objectives are unstated

    family policy; manifest—laws, legislation, and programs with obvious family objectives or consequences

    family policy; latent—laws, legislation, and programs whose family objectives and consequences are not obvious

    family policy; direct—laws, legislation, and programs that have family aims and consequences, although these may or may not be stated

    family policy; indirect—laws, legislation, and programs that have aims and objectives other than those pertaining to families, through which families are affected

    family policy; intentional—laws, legislation, and programs with deliberately planned family consequences

    family policy; unintentional—laws, legislation, and programs with unplanned family consequences

    family realm—complex set of affect, development, experience, rules, ethics, patterns, relationships, aspirations, values, and heritage

    needs—that which is essential for the performance of key social roles, i.e., spouse, parent, child, worker, citizen

    nonintegration—the exclusion of some people from benefits or social supports enjoyed by others

    political culture—attitudes that people hold toward government and toward each other; the distribution of attitudes toward political objects in a population

    political culture, individualistic—emphasis on private over public concerns; committed to limiting government intervention into private activities and the economy, to minimum necessary government intervention in economic affairs

    political culture, moralistic—views government in a positive light, as having responsibility for promoting the general welfare; committed to active government intervention into the economic and social life of the community

    political culture, traditionalistic—views government in a positive light but tries to restrict its role to maintaining the existing social order; ambivalent toward the marketplace and paternalistic and elitist conception of commonwealth

    social integration—refers to strength of persons' ties to institutions that function to bind individuals to the larger society; a general consensus concerning rules of behavior and means of ensuring compliance with them, including governments' mediation of connections between and among people so as to further members' well-being.

    well-being—state of being healthy, happy, and free from want; outcome of long-term socialization and developmental processes and concurrent environmental conditions and processes; composite of satisfactions in domains of marriage, job, leisure, family, and housing; degree to which basic needs are met

    well-being, family—extension of concept of well-being to families based on systems notion that whatever affects one member affects the larger family unit as well

    Appendix B: A Survey Questionnaire of Well-Being

    The following are questions that can be asked in a survey to assess the well-being of persons in your community. Begin with a lead question, asking persons to say yes or no as to whether any of the following happened to them during the past 12 months:

    • Got a promotion? Yes_ No_ not sure_
    • Lost a promotion or new job?
    • Got laid off from work?
    • Worried about losing a job?
    • Had a noticeable increase in income or feeling of financial security?
    • Had a noticeable decrease in income or feeling of financial security?
    • Had a child?
    • Got divorced, separated, or ended a long romantic relationship?
    • Developed serious marital problems?
    • Had serious or upsetting problems with children?
    • Didn't have enough good friends?
    • Felt lonely much of the time?
    • Wasn't having any fun?
    • Didn't have enough time to do things would like to do?
    • Lacked entertainment, cultural, and recreational activities?

    These can be followed by questions that ask people how satisfied they are with:

    • their job?
    • their financial prospects for the future?
    • the quality of their friendships?
    • the quality of their marriage or most important relationship?
    • the amount of fun they have?
    • the entertainment, recreational, and cultural activities available to them?
    • government in Washington?
    • government at the state capital?
    • their city council?
    • their doctor?
    • etc.

    To complete the survey, ask respondents to describe their lives in global happiness terms, as being:

    • very unhappy
    • somewhat unhappy
    • neither happy or unhappy
    • somewhat happy
    • very happy

    A scale of minus 100 to plus 100 can be used to measure the domains shaping personal lives. Ratings on individual items can be adjusted to give added weight to domains rated most important by individual respondents. A person would rate near 100 plus if he or she indicates being very satisfied with all aspects of life. Aggregated scores near 100 for a given community would tell you that the level of well-being in that community was very high, the opposite being true when scores are low.

    By securing satisfaction scores for a randomly selected group of persons living in your community and relating these to such variables as age, sex, income, race, political party, religion, marital and health status, you will be able to determine whether any of these played a role in the distribution of the scores you obtained on the survey. If, in addition, you conduct a survey of randomly selected persons in another community in your state or another state, you will be able to compare scores across communities. At the same time, you will want to gather information about community characteristics that also might help to account for differences in scores. These could relate to unemployment rates, the sex and age structure of the community, political culture, and so forth.

    Be aware that satisfaction scores as global measures of individual and family well-being are not meant to determine whether a particular agency program contributes to family well-being. Indeed, an argument may be made that no single program in and of itself can realistically be expected to have much of an effect in this regard. Nonetheless, you may be able to design a questionnaire that would give you this kind of information. Consult a researcher at your local university or in your agency or office if you need help.

    For a more macro level analysis of family well-being, you can rank states and counties for selected years on their:

    • unemployment rates
    • poverty rates
    • teen birthrates
    • infant death rates
    • suicide rates
    • divorce rates
    • school completion rates
    • etc., etc., etc.

    These rankings can then be compared across states and also over time. The data for such rankings can be obtained from the Statistical Abstracts of the United States for each year you are interested in observing. Sometimes such information is reported on a bidecennial basis and sometimes on a decennial basis. Notice changes in rankings over time and think about reasons for such changes, using both theory and knowledge about historical developments as guides. States consistently ranking higher on poverty rates compared to other states would be considered as having lower levels of well-being. See Chapter 6.

    Appendix C: States' Political Cultures

    Appendix C includes three tables: One that outlines the characteristics of the three political cultures as identified by Daniel Elazar in Chapter 3, one that places states on a continuum based on their political cultures, and a third that shows the populations of cultural groupings by state, 1940–1980.

    Table C.l Characteristics of the Three Political Cultures

    Table C.2 State Political Cultures: The National Configuration

    Table C.3 Populations of the Cultural Groupings, by State, 1940–1980a

    Appendix D: Instrument for Survey of Attitudes about the Intergenerational Distribution of Resources

    The research instrument that appears below is the one that I developed in doing the attitudinal survey of family professionals in 23 states about the intergenerational distribution of resources. If you wish, you may use it to replicate the study in your state or community. As you can see, it includes instructions for completing the survey. You may add items to it. In coding states for data analysis, number them sequentially, in alphabetical order. A description of the data analysis is included in chapter 4. For further information about the survey, please contact me: Professor Shirley L. Zimmerman, Family Social Science, University of Minnesota, 290 McNeal Hall, 198S Buford, St. Paul, Minnesota 55108, phone number (612) 625–3735.

    The Intergenerational Distribution of Resources

    Shirley L. Zimmerman, PH.D., Professor Family Social Science, University of Minnesota 290 McNeal Hall, 1985 Buford, St. Paul, Minnesota 55108

    This questionnaire is designed to measure certain general attitudes with respect to the intergenerational distribution of resources. On the following pages you will find a series of general statements of opinion followed by a set of possible responses that appear below:

    • Strongly disagree (SD)
    • Disagree (D)
    • Mildly disagree (MD)
    • Mildly Agree (MA)
    • Agree (A)
    • Strongly Agree (SA)
    • Don't know (DK)

    Please read each of the statements and then circle the number of the response that best represents your immediate reaction to the stated opinion. Respond to each opinion as a whole. If you have reservations about some part of a statement, circle the response number that best approximates your general attitude. Answer items 41–44 only if they are applicable to your situation.

    Please note: Questions start with item 5.


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    About the Author

    SHIRLEY L. ZIMMERMAN is Professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota, where she teaches family policy, family policy research, and comparative family policy. She has served as consultant to state and local social agencies in planning and developing educational programs for professional staff and in the conduct of research. Her research focuses on public policy choices in mediating connections between families and government and factors that influence such choices, as reported in this discussion. She is the author of numerous articles dealing with the effects of public-policy choices on families in different life situations and positioned in different locations in the socioeconomic structure. She is the author of Understanding Family Policy: Theoretical Approaches, published by Sage in 1988. She is a former NIMH Postdoctoral Fellow in the Family Impact Analysis Training Program, sponsored by the Family Study Center at the University of Minnesota. She is married, has three sons, one daughter, three daughters-in-law, four grandsons, and one granddaughter.

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