12: Towards greater social investments and equality in Europe and East Asia: policies and politics

The various chapters of this book have shown that we can observe increased social investment efforts in both European and East Asian countries. In family policy particularly, governments have made considerable efforts to improve work–family reconciliation policy (including early childhood education and care provisions) with the objective of promoting women’s employment, child development and increasing fertility rates. Unsurprisingly, the social investment literature draws heavily on the experience of family policy expansion across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries. In addition to greater public social investments, we find intensified private social investments in the domain of education. Families’ mobilisation of substantial resources for higher education is well documented, and student tuition has attracted much controversy in many OECD countries. Private tutoring (or shadow education) as private social investment has long enjoyed much prominence in East Asia, where it is a dominant feature of the lives of young learners. It has, however, received less attention that shadow education is on the rise in Europe too.

Besides the economic rationales that are typically associated with social investment strategies, policy-makers, especially on the political left, are also driven by the desire to improve equality of opportunities, which is thought to eventually translate into greater social equality, including greater gender equality. Most notably, childcare provisions promote women’s employment participation and thereby increasing their economic independence, and early education provisions are widely assumed to benefit children from disadvantaged backgrounds the most. It is hoped this will close the achievement gap between children from different socio-economic backgrounds.

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