In recent decades, the strong influence of the male breadwinner model of welfare is increasingly being replaced by the adult worker model all across Europe. This development has had a crucial influence on mothers’ social rights. To determine the current character of mothers’ social citizenship, the tax system, cash benefits and care-services provided to mothers with young children in Germany and Sweden are comparatively explored.
Through the analysis of income from benefits of mothers with different labor market and marital status while they are on parental leave, the question how well the German and the Swedish welfare states protect mothers from poverty or financial dependence on a male breadwinner is examined. The analysis reveals that the social right structure of single mothers in the German and the Swedish welfare state are very similar today: While mothers with a stable connection to the labor market are well protected against poverty, those who mainly have to refer to means-tested benefits fall below the poverty line in both countries. For married mothers, the established characterization of Germany as a slowly changing supporter of the male breadwinner model and the Swedish welfare state as a supporter of individual social rights proves to be accurate. Mainly because of joint taxation, married mothers in Germany have a much higher risk of being financially dependent on their husbands than Swedish mothers.
Analysis of the childcare sector and women’s integration into the labor market further shows that the Swedish welfare state still provides a more generous and inclusive protection to mothers overall. This protection is not due to more generous benefits, but a better integration of women in the labor market, which in turn leads to a much higher coverage rate of benefits based on work-performance.
The results illustrate that to present a thorough picture of mothers’ social citizenship, it is crucial to analyze the interaction of different benefits, the tax system, the provision of care services, and women’s position in the labor market. Furthermore, I also stress the importance of measuring married mothers’ individual income in contrast to the commonly used household income in order to reach a realistic impression of their individual social rights.