Professor Mary Daly

Mary Daly is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the Department and a Fellow of Green Templeton College. 

Mary Daly’s research interests and expertise are international in scope, focused on the analysis of social policy in OECD countries, with a particular interest in family, gender, care/social care and poverty. Most of her work is comparative, in a European and international context. Her 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. 

In July 2017 Professor Daly was elected fellow of the British Academy. She is also a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences and a Member of the Royal Irish Academy. She is a member of the Social Policy and Social Work sub-panel for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2021. She was the Vice-Chair of the Sociology sub-panel in both the 2014 and 2008 national assessment exercises. She is a former editor of the journal Social Politics and an advisory board member of this and a number of other journals. She has served on numerous national and international funding and peer review panels, including for the ESRC, the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Italy, the Academy of Finland, the Norwegian Research Council and the Ministry of Science and Technology, Portugal.
Mary Daly researches the following social policy areas:
•    family policy, including parenting, policies for children and the governance of family life
•    gender differences and inequalities
•    care systems, especially in regard to meeting need, complexity and inequalities 
•    poverty and welfare
•    comparative social policy development
•    EU social policy.

Mary Daly is taking forward her work in these and other areas in five main directions. First, she is researching the persistence of gender inequality, comparing developments in a range of fields but especially theorising the role of social policy in terms of what it has sought to address and the way it frames problems and responses. The questions that she is exploring here include why gender inequality has fallen down the policy hierarchy and why countries vary in how they have prioritised it? She published a new book on gender and social policy in 2020 which addresses these and other questions: Gender Inequality and Welfare States in Europe . As well as scrutinising policies and their consequences, the book sets out a future research agenda. 

Secondly, she is extending her research on family and policy, being especially interested in the changing nature of family life and the challenges this poses for social policy and societies. This work leads her towards the analysis of parenting policies, child-related policies, work-life balance, care provision for older people. The driving interest is to understand social policy’s role in supporting (or not) families as changing and complex entities. How can we understand poverty as a family experience? How can we avoid child poverty and how is it connected to family policies and practices? What policies exist to fight issues of concentrated disadvantage and which policies work better in particular contexts?   She is looking at these matters through a comparative lens, opening up the question of the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches (for example service-based support vs cash benefits, targeting the individual as against a more collective approach to family and household). A particular interest is in how individuals and families respond to policies and create their own systems of meaning and practice. In a recent paper she problematises and examines how and why European countries approach the matter of children’s rights and entitlements

Thirdly, she researches and theorises about care.  In her work care is conceived broadly, to encompass, along with caring for those in situations of frailty and vulnerability, the human condition as one of interdependence and ubiquitous vulnerability. She is interested in what constitutes ‘good care’ and also in care as a source of inequality and disadvantage. She has written theoretically about care in a 2021 article in the Journal of European Social Policy , suggesting that care be analysed as multi-dimensional, comprising a need, a set of relations/actors, resources and ideas and values. Her interest in care also extends to an analysis of the treatment of care homes during the pandemic in England. She is currently undertaking a project researching the orientations of care workers to their jobs, identifying what choices they see as available to them and how working and other conditions could be significantly improved.  

Fourthly, she is very interested in poverty as a social problem and experience. In this regard, her research focuses on better understanding poverty, especially from the perspective of people who are experiencing it. If we do not fully understand poverty, we cannot address it or indeed theorise about it or measure it properly. In recent work she has started to theorise the meaning of family and the complex reality of family life as it relates to poverty. This work treats family not just as a unit of resource sharing but also as the source of relationships and moral and other commitments that affect how poverty is experienced and addressed

A fifth strand to her work is European Union social policy, especially from the perspective of the underlying social policy models and approaches and the significance of the changing political constitution of Europe for European social policy. She continues to research the development of social policy under Europe 2020 and the European Pillar of Social Rights, carrying out theoretical and empirical work on the guiding concepts of social policy reform in the EU and the associated politics. She has also worked on the significance of Brexit, for both EU social policy and that in the 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.   

Mary Daly’s latest book, published in February 2020 by Edward Elgar is Gender Inequality  and Welfare States in Europe. Earlier books include Welfare and the Great Recession (co-edited with Stefan Ólafsson, Olli Kangas and Joakim Palme),  published in 2019 by Oxford University Press.  She is also co-author (with Grace Kelly) of Families and Poverty: Everyday Life on a Low Income  (Policy Press 2015). Her previous books include: Welfare  (Polity Press, 2011); Gender and the Welfare State  (Polity Press 2003); The Gender Division of Welfare  (Cambridge University Press 2000). 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. Social Policy & Administration. In addition to the above, she has published in numerous edited volumes, and completed policy reports for a wide range of governmental and non-governmental organisations.


Her current and recent research projects include: 

rEUsilience: Risks, Resources and Inequalities: Increasing Resilience in European Families

This EU- and ESRC-funded project trains the spotlight on socio-economic and other risks facing families across European societies and the role of policy in protecting against such risks. Undertaking both EU-wide research as well as studies of particular countries (Belgium, Croatia, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the UK), the goal is to identify how families respond to risks and changes in their economic and care-related circumstances, especially in a context of fast-paced changes in labour markets and increasing income insecurity.  

The project will answer two research questions: What challenges and difficulties are created or exacerbated for families by labour markets in the ‘new world of work’ and how do families try to overcome these while managing their care-related and other responsibilities? How do social policies contribute to familial resilience, especially in terms of the extent to which policies are inclusive, flexible and complementary? As well as undertaking new research, the project includes a policy lab which involves citizens and experts directly in policy review and problem solution and also uses simulations and other methods to road-test policy solutions.  

Work Orientations and Conditions of Care Workers (2021-2022)

The project, funded by the John Fell Fund, uses Albert Hirschman’s framework of exit, loyalty and voice to examine how workers in care homes manage discordance between the material, the psycho-social and the political, aspects of their work and life. Focused on identifying the realities of their everyday lives especially in a context of COVID-19, it examines the role and limits of their loyalty, the extent to which they see exit and or voice (in terms of political engagement) as available to them, and where the tipping point is between staying or leaving.

Specifically, the project:

  • Explores care workers’ attachment to their work, the working conditions and their perceptions of their choices and how they make decisions to stay or leave;
  • Utilises this and other evidence to co-produce policy insights and practical guidelines with a host of stakeholders.

Database on Child-related Policy During the Coronavirus Pandemic (2021-2022)

This research project builds a bespoke comparative data set to report and analyse countries’ policy responses to child and family well-being during the pandemic, assessing the measures taken, their likely impact and future potential as part of pathways to change. The database rests on a framework that identifies five pivotal social rights for children in a pandemic context:  the right to early education and childcare; the right not to be hungry; the right to parental care when ill or during school lockdown; the right to education; the right not to be poor. The database covers the following policy areas: early education and childcare; food provision and related support; parenting-related policies; education; and income support measures for families. It differentiates between policies on the basis of their ‘route to the child’. Provisions that target the child directly are differentiated from those channeled through parents and/or the family more broadly. In these and other ways, the database provides more integrated, granulated and child-centred information than has been available heretofore.  

The database is intended as a public resource and will be made public later in 2021.

Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Family Formation Policies (2019-2020)

This project, seed-funded by the OX-BER partnership, explores the potential challenges in linking policies oriented to the pre-parental phase of family with those oriented to the parental phase. Theories on the latter are far more developed than on the former, certainly from a social policy perspective. At the project’s core is a critical and forward-looking analysis, surveying the existing relevant regulation in a range of policy fields.  The first strand of the project will develop a descriptive overview of the patterns of policies across countries; the second will uncover the specific tensions created within particular policy packages and fields. The planned outputs from the project include a symposium and a number of publications, including a background research paper, a project/symposium report and at least one journal article.

Assessing and Monitoring Family Policy (2015-2017) 

The overall objective of the project, funded by the John Fell Fund, was to undertake a state of the art review of the available data on family policy in an international comparative context and to create a database of the most significant family-related policy developments in the UK. The policy fields covered include financial supports for families, parental leave and early childhood education and care. The database is known as the Oxford Family Policy Database and can be accessed here.

Past projects in which she played a leading role: 

Governing ‘New Social Risks’: The Case of Recent Child Policies in European Welfare States (2011-2014)

This Economic and Social Research Council funded project critically reviewed the child-centred investment approaches that are now being adopted widely in Europe. The research focus was on interventions with parents, especially parenting programmes of various kinds in four countries: France, Germany, the Netherlands and UK. As well as examining how they functioned, the research project identified 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. 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 theory and practice of poverty and social exclusion measurement. A central component of the project was a major national survey of poverty and social exclusion run in 2013. Other more qualitative research projects were also undertaken to identify people’s experiences of poverty. 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 policies 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
  • Appointed member of ESRC Strategic Advisory Network (2019-2021)
  • Elected fellow of the British Academy in 2017
  • Elected fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in 2016
  • Elected member of the Royal Irish Academy in 2010
  • Chair of the Council of Europe High-Level Taskforce on the Future of Social Cohesion in Europe (2007-2009)
  • Government appointed member of the National Economic and Social Council of Ireland 2013-2016.
  • Team leader on the EU-funded European Social Policy Network.
  • Member of the sub-panel for sociology in both the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and for Social Policy and Social Work for REF 2021
  • Editor of Social Politics, associate editor of the Irish Journal of Sociology, member of the editorial advisory board of European Societies and Social Policy & Administration.

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 within Europe and between Europe and other world regions;
•    the political economy of EU social policy;
•    gender inequality; intersectional inequalities;
•    explaining welfare state change and continuity in comparative perspective;
•    the challenges of understanding and addressing poverty;
•    children’s social policy;
•    the application of different methodologies to understand social policy variations in a comparative perspective.

Current students