Accepted paper:

Housing subsidies and unmarried mothers in post-dictatorial Chile, 1990-2010


Alejandra Ramm (Universidad Diego Portales)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses how post-dictatorial social policies in Chile unintendedly have increased, albeit in a limited way, the material and symbolic power of unmarried mothers. The analysis focuses on housing subsidies, as these are crucial to family life, and, in turn, to gender relations.

Paper long abstract:

Housing subsidies entail a significant part of social spending and are crucial for poor families. Who can apply to a housing subsidy? Who is entitled to be a home owner? What kinds of families are favoured by housing subsidies? These questions are analysed in the light of possible gains for women. Once democracy returned to Chile, social protection not only expanded its coverage, but also further enhanced targeting of vulnerable groups. Following a conventional understanding of gender roles, unmarried mothers were defined as vulnerable as they did not have a formal husband to look after them and their children. Yet expansion and targeting of social protection have brought the unexpected consequence of downgrading the historical significance of marriage as the exclusive or major means of access to welfare (for women/mothers not involved in formal employment). Therefore, today unmarried mothers can themselves apply to a housing subsidy, and, due to their vulnerability, they might have even more chances of receiving it than married couples. The paper combines a socio-historical analysis of social protection in Chile with qualitative life histories of urban young people from low income groups. The socio-historical background refers to changes in social welfare programs introduced by Pinochet's dictatorship and continued, in large part, by the post-authoritarian, centre-left ConcertaciĆ³n governments. I also collected life histories of young people who were starting to form their own families and looking for greater housing opportunities. In this manner, housing subsidies also became a central theme of their narratives.

panel P21
Challenging gendered instrumentalism in Latin American social policy?