Professor Mary Daly

Professor of Sociology and Social Policy

Governing Body Fellow and Academic Tutor, Green Templeton College.

Mary Daly received her PhD in social and political sciences from the European University Institute and taught at Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany and Queen’s University Belfast before joining Oxford in 2012. Her research interests and expertise are primarily focused on the analysis of social policy in advanced OECD countries. Most of her work is comparative, in a European and international context, and interdisciplinary. Mary Daly’s research has been supported by a wide range of funders, including the Economic and Social Research Council, the EU, Council of Europe, the ILO, UN, UN Women and UNICEF. She has been a visiting scholar at a number of universities, including Harvard University (Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies) and Brown University (Population Studies and Training Center).

In July 2017 Professor Daly was elected as fellow to the British Academy

Substantively, Professor Daly is interested in and has published widely on the following social policy areas:

  • family policy, including parenting, provision for children and the governance of family
  • gender
  • care
  • poverty and welfare
  • comparative social policy development
  • EU social policy

Mary Daly’s latest book, published in February 2015 by Policy Press and co-authored with Grace Kelly, is entitled: Families and Poverty: Everyday Life on a Low Income. Her previous books include: Welfare (Polity Press, 2011); The Gender Division of Welfare (Cambridge University Press 2000); Gender and the Welfare State (Polity Press 2003). She has many published articles in top journals such as Journal of European Social Policy, Journal of Social Policy, Sociology, Theory and Society, British Journal of Sociology, Social Policy & Society, European Societies, Policy and Politics, Journal of Common Market Studies, Social Politics. She has also published in numerous edited volumes, and completed policy reports for a wide range of governmental and non-governmental organisations.
Professor Daly is taking forward her work in these and other areas in three main ways. First, she is interested in the meaning of ‘welfare’ in contemporary societies and how policy conceives of welfare at different points in time and place. The extent, meaning and experience of poverty and the range and depth of inequalities in the UK and elsewhere are crucial interests in this regard. Secondly, she is extending her research on family and family policy. She is especially interested in the challenges posed for policy by changes in family and personal life. This work takes her in the direction of analysing how welfare states (and other institutional domains) respond to challenges associated with family in contemporary society leading to the study of parenting policies, child-related policies, work-life balance and so forth. She is also continuing to develop her thinking on ‘care’, undertaking research on the implications of policies and societal developments for the quality of care (for both children and adults) and the norms around care provision. A third strand to her work is the dynamics of EU social policy, especially from the perspective of the underlying social policy models that are being espoused and the ways in which EU developments interact with national models of welfare state provision. In this regard she has been researching the development of social policy under Europe 2020, carrying out theoretical, conceptual and empirical work on the guiding concepts of social policy reform in the EU and the implications for individuals, families and societies.


Her current research projects include:
Assessing and Monitoring Family Policy (2015-2016)
The overall objective of the project, funded by the John Fell Fund, is to undertake a state of the art interdisciplinary review of both data availability on family policy in an international comparative context. The project also seeks to amass and organise evidence on key policy developments within and across countries, track and evaluate indicators and data for these developments, and develop the foundations for a comprehensive and up-to-date indicator/data set (template) on family policy and its development. The overall aim is to update thinking and practice on how to define, conceptualise and measure family policy and to put together, with the UK as a case study, a more up-to-date set of indicators and an appropriately complex way of conceptualising the field.

Projects in which she played a leading role and which have recently finished include:

Governing ‘New Social Risks’: The Case of Recent Child Policies in European Welfare States (2011-2014)
This Economic and Social Research Council funded project looked behind the child-centred investment approaches that are now being adopted widely in Europe. The focus was especially on interventions with parents, especially parenting programmes of various kinds. As well as examining how they are functioning, the research project was especially interested in identifying the ambiguities in recent policies for families and children, e.g., the tension between helping and controlling families and the possibility that new social divides between different kinds of families are being generated. It was organised as a cross-national comparative study, covering France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and UK.  Download the Policy Brief.

Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK, the 2012 Survey (2010-2014)
The primary purpose of this research grant, shared between six partner universities, was to advance the ‘state of the art’ of the theory and practice of poverty and social exclusion measurement. A central component of the project was the replication of the Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey which was carried out in 1998-99 in Britain and in Northern Ireland in 2002-03. This research built on these previous methodological innovations in light of current policy concerns. With funding to the value of over £4.5 million, the project involved a large multi-disciplinary team. One of the elements which Mary Daly oversaw was the qualitative study of family life in conditions of low income and poverty. See 

Other research which she completed during the last years include:

  • A project for UNICEF to develop an analytic framework and undertake scoping research on the nature and growth of family support and parenting support on a global basis. The final report, published in 2015, can be seen here:
  • A contributory report to the UN flagship Report – Progress of the World’s Women 2015- 2016 – on key developments in child-related financial transfers and early childhood education and care services on a global basis. The report has been published as a UN Women Discussion Paper in 2015 and be found here:  
  • A project carried out in 2014/5, overseen by the Austrian Institute for Family Studies, and funded by the EU-based European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, on families in the economic crisis. The project mapped policy developments and also the impact on families of developments in five countries (Austria, Finland, Portugal, Slovenia, UK).

Mary Daly is the founder of the Care Initiative at Green Templeton College which brings together people from different disciplinary and professional backgrounds to engage in informed debate and research around the complex issues involved in caring for and with older people. Its general field of interest is in explicating the social dimensions of care for older people and developing understanding of the linkages between social care and health care in an inter-disciplinary and policy perspective.  



Mary Daly is interested in supervising DPhil students who intend to work on any of the following broad themes:

  • the challenges to the welfare state regarding family, care and gender issues;
  • family policies across countries, with a particular reference to comparison between European and Asian countries;
  • the political economy of EU social policy;
  • gender difference and inequality and innovations in policy approaches;
  • explaining welfare state change and continuity in comparative perspective;
  • the challenges which understanding and addressing poverty poses to social policy and scholarship;
  • the application of different methodologies to understand social policy variations in a comparative perspective.

Current DPhil Students