The University of Edinburgh -

Working Papers on the Reconciliation of Work and Welfare in Europe

REC-WP 03 / 09

Applying Sens Capabilities Framework to Work Family Balance within a European Context: Theoretical and Empirical Challenges

Barbara Hobson and Susanne Fahlén

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This state of the art has two specific aims: One is to present the dominant theories and identify weaknesses in theories that have sought to explain the processes surrounding the division of time and paid/unpaid work in families, specifically addressing models of agency and work family balance. The second and main purpose of this paper is to provide a theoretical framework and set of indicators for analyzing agency and work family balance in a complex and multi-layered universe of constraints and possibilities, of rights and capabilities to exercise them. This framework derives its inspiration from Amartya Sens framework on capabilities and agency freedom and much of the paper will be devoted to discussing the framework and the theoretical and empirical challenges that it poses for comparative welfare state research with a multi-level approach, that integrates the individual/household level,  supra-national and national policy level and firm/work organizational level. The paper takes up theoretical and empirical challenges that Sens framework poses for welfare state research: How are the tensions and contradictions in WFB balance policy both within and beyond the nation state reflected in agency inequalities? How do institutional settings shape not only individual practices but also the perception of ones entitlement to make a claim, the conversion of rights into claims? How do we design research models that capture the multiple sites of claims making for WFB: household; work organization and the state? We present several models of capabilities incorporating a mutli-level framework of individual, institutional and societal resources. The assumptions in this model are applied to data in the 2004 wave of the European Social Survey.


Agency, Amartya Sen, gender, welfare regimes, work, family