Citizens, Families, and Reform

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Modern families are economic institutions of great productivity. They contribute as much to a society's economic well-being as does worker productivity in formal markets. In Citizens, Families, and Reform, Stein Ringen shows how long-standing inequalities of income and class are flexible and changing in post-industrial societies. Such inequalities respond to structural changes such as social mobility and to public policies such as those of the welfare state. His book is a study of the process from careful statistical analysis to specific policy recommendations.The book draws on two strands of research, one on children and families and the other on social inequality. Both summarize detailed statistical analysis. Ringen's basic premise is that prudent social policy should start from investment in families. Progress and reform in society, such as extended access to education, tends to modify social divisions and stimulate open opportunity, particularly in the area of higher education. The book addresses the situation of children, who have a surprisingly lower standard of living than adult population groups by most measures of well-being. Ringen attributes this disparity to flaws in the distribution of power, which leads to the disenfranchisement of children as citizens. He addresses this problem by discussing children and voting rights, building a case for realizing the ideal of one person, one vote, by extending the vote to children.Real democracies are necessarily imperfect. Ringen argues for the classical liberal theory of social progress through economic growth and equality of opportunity and warns against the terrible temptation towards perfection. His new introduction reviews the debates sparked by the book's original publication in 1997 and suggests areas in which his arguments have been vindicated.