Family benefits are available in most developed countries to encourage people to form and maintain stable families. Benefits are offered through the government, as well as by other sources, such employers. Examples of benefits include preferential tax treatment, cash payments, and retail discounts. A common government benefit is public schooling for children, and a common employer benefit is a leave of absence for new parents.
A government’s role in family benefits is usually the most commonly known of all efforts in a country. For instance, some countries, like the United States, offer tax relief to parents, based on the number of children they have. For families whose income is below a certain threshold, additional amounts are credited toward their income tax liability, and if the liability is reduced below $0 US Dollars (USD), that amount is refunded to the family. An additional government-sponsored family benefit in the United States is made through the Social Security system, the American system of guaranteed retirement income. If a worker dies with unmarried children below age 18, those children will receive monthly benefit payments.
Many other countries, especially those in the European Union, have established systems of periodic payments to families based on the earnings they reported on income tax returns. These payments are based on the number of children in a family; sometimes they're flat-rate, and sometimes they’re based on the age of the children. That is, payments for younger children are greater than those made for older children. Many countries limit full payments to the first two or three children, reducing or eliminating payments after that point. Some countries, like Estonia, also give special payments for families in special circumstances, such as where one of the parents is a military constript.
In nearly all countries, one of the most visible family benefits is the public school system. Probably the greatest and most costly of all family benefits, it’s provided to all children regardless of the number of children in the family, and in most countries, is provided through the end of secondary school. Many countries continue to provide educational benefits to students in post-secondary academic careers, based usually on their academic qualifications.
Employers routinely permit paid or unpaid leaves of absence for employees upon the birth or adoption of a new child, although some of these benefits are required by law. Family leave benefits often include leave to care for a seriously ill family member, including a same-sex partner or spouse. Some employers, especially in academia, offer scholarships or tuition assistance not only to their own employees, but to their employees’ children.
In addition to offering benefits to their employees, some companies also extend benefits to customers. For example, the producers of baby foods and supplies often subsidize purchases by families of limited means, and the families of newborns are usually barraged with offers of free or reduced-price products. In addition, companies may sponsor scholarships, as well as donate money to organizations and programs that benefit families.
There’s no doubt that family benefit programs are controversial in many places. Senior citizens complain about their tax dollars being used for public education systems when they have no children in school, and perhaps never did. The idea of paying tax dollars to low-income families to subsidize the cost of raising children likewise generates complaints from those who never received the benefits. In some cases, some consumers even vow not to patronize companies that provide certain family benefits.
Despite the objections, the governments that provide these benefits generally do so based on the belief that strong families strengthen a society. Businesses provide family benefits to their customers in an attempt to generate brand loyalty, and employers provide family benefits both as a boost to employee morale and also as a retention strategy. In many cases, those who provide family benefits ultimately reap some form of reward that is at least as great as what they paid out.