PhD thesis

In my PhD thesis, I analyze current ‘Leitbilder’ (cultural models) of ‘good parenting’ and their relation to social inequality.

Scholars observe that parents face increasing expectations and demands. Influential actors such as politics (Daly 2017), experts (Lareau 2003[2011]) and science (Ramaekers & Suissa 2012) try to steer how families execute their childrearing. They identified the parent-child relationship as a prime vehicle to counter social inequalities and further societal ills. However, the focus on parenting as an isolated phenomenon neglects the larger context of families and has hence been described as a “individualization of social class” (Gillies 2005). In addition, it is quite unclear whether and how parents are responsive to claims they face. I try to address these questions in three articles that are shortly introduced in the following:

1. (Un)Equal from the Start? A Quantitative Analysis of Preschool Children’s Participation in Organized Activities in Germany [accepted: European Early Childhood Education Research Journal]

In this article, I investigate preschool children’s participation in organized activities. Current political and academic debates consider informal education as a prime vehicle for potentially diminishing social class inequalities in educational outcomes before school entry. However, studies point to unequal participation rates between social classes, which means the activities might actually aggravate existing disparities. Various explanations have been offered for this social class gap. Some scholars argue that material resources play a pivotal role, while others say that culture is the decisive factor. This study uses the kindergarten cohort of the German National Educational Panel Study (NEPS) to test how far these two dimensions contribute to social class differences in preschool children’s participation in organized activities. My analysis shows that both dimensions are important determinants of children’s participation in organized activities. However, occupational characteristics also have a considerable effect, which suggests shortcomings in the current scholarly discussion.

Here is the open access link to the article.

2. Playground chatter on the internet? ‘Leitbilder’ on parenting in a parent online forum [accepted: Zeitschrift für Familienforschung / Journal of Family Research]

This paper investigates whether the current ‘leitbild’ of ‘good parenting’ becomes relevant for parents. In order to address this question user submission to a digital parent forum are used as data base. This digital data enables me to not only test the relevance of the current ‘leitbild’ but also to analyze how parents position themselves against demands from politics, science and parenting guides. With topic models, I apply an innovative method from the computational social sciences (CSS) to analyze the data which consists of 58,240 user submissions. In family sociology, these methods have not been utilized yet. My analysis shows that expert knowledge is used by parents to justify and reflect on their own child-rearing. Parents refer to expert knowledge mainly in a positive manner, however, some authors are viewed rather critically.

Here is the link to the article.

3. Paradigm shift in German family policy: Applying a topic model to map reform and public discourse, 1990-2016

This article explores newspaper discourse surrounding paradigm shift of social policy. The case at hand, Germany, is considered a prime example of a welfare state that is particularly resilient to reform. Hence, the rapid paradigm shift of German family policy in the late 1990s is still puzzling. This study addresses this puzzle by following the insight that discourse is crucial for policy change. Politicians have to promote their reform initiatives prior to their implementation. The main channel through which communication with the wider public takes place is mass media. Here, I use newspaper coverage from 1990 to 2016 as an empirical case in order to analyze whether media is responsive to reform initiatives. The analytical approach makes use of topic modeling an innovative method stemming from computational social science.