An important principle in the Swedish welfare model is that all adults – women and men, mothers and fathers – should have the possibility to support themselves through wage work. Public child care constitutes a very important part of the social infrastructure which should make this possible (Bergqvist & Nyberg 2001, 2002). However, an adequate supply of public child care is not enough; it should also be accessible, of high quality and affordable. If not, public child care risks being a marginal phenomenon, a last resort for mothers (parents) who do not have a choice. The policies laying the foundations of the dual earner model emerged in Sweden in the course of the 1960s and 1970s (Sainsbury 1996, 1999; Bergqvist et al. 1999; Löfström 2004). A new approach to gender equality in both employment and responsibility for children and family became acknowledged in the law and in policies, if not always in practice. However, at the beginning of the 1990s there was a sharp economic downturn. The employment rate fell dramatically and unemployment soared to levels unthinkable since the 1930s.1 The employment crisis, in turn, produced an accelerating public sector deficit, with revenues plummeting and public expenditures shooting up.2 The situation began to improve only as the decade came to an end, but the employment rate is considerably lower today than in 1990, while the unemployment rate is much higher and this is true for both women and men. In addition to the economic crisis, there were also other factors that might constitute a challenge to the stability of the traditional Swedish welfare model, the dual earner model and gender equality. First, the Social Democratic Party lost its historically dominant position, which opened the way for neo-liberal ideas on market forces and privatisation. The internationalisation of capital markets and financial transactions, plus Sweden’s participation in the European integration project also posed new challenges. Given the unemployment situation, the financial strains, globalisation, and the spread of neo-liberal ideas, it is reasonable to assume that serious attempts to transform the Swedish welfare state might have been undertaken and the dual earner model might be undermined. The aim of this article is to assess the consequences of the economic crisis on publicly financed child care. What happened to the supply of child care, to the accessibility, affordability and to the quality in public child care between 1990 and 2005? To start with, however, the background in terms of mothers’ employment and the expansion of public child care is briefly presented.
Sydney, Australien: Sydney University Press , 2007. 38-56 p.