This article examines the impact of social policies on the living conditions of poor families—particularly women—in Latin America from the late 1980s to the present. It identifies three distinct trends of familialism in the region’s social protection systems. The first social policy trend is characterized by poverty alleviation policies addressing the family in an “elliptical” way, taking for granted the idea of a nuclear family. The distinguishing trait of the second trend is the appearance of social programs aimed at families and stressing the role of women as chief caregivers and administrators. And finally, the third policy trend is defined by an expansion of more universal social programs targeting children and the elderly. Despite the recent emergence of programs with gender specific goals, social policies continue to put a great burden on female workers. For example, many subsidies to poor families deliver money directly to women, improving their intra-family bargaining power, but this translates also into an increase of responsibilities and the ensuing overload of work. Consequently, social policies in Latin America need to aim at encouraging a more egalitarian distribution of housework and care work within the family, especially given how well-established androcentrism is in the region.
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