Professor Mary Daly

Mary Daly is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy and within the department is the course director for the Master’s programmes in Comparative Social Policy. She is a Fellow of Green Templeton College and a former College Academic Tutor.

Mary Daly’s research interests and expertise are international in scope, focused on the analysis of social policy with a particular interest in family, gender, care/social care and poverty. 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. 

In July 2017 Professor Daly was elected as fellow to the British Academy. She was previously elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences (2016) and to Membership of the Royal Irish Academy (2010). She was the Deputy Chair of the Sociology Sub-panel in both the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) and 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). She is also a member of the Social Policy, Social Work and Criminology sub-panel for REF2021. She is an editor of the journal Social Politics and an advisory board member of a number of other journals including Social Policy & Administration and European Societies. 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, the Qatari Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development and 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
  • care systems, quality and provision
  • poverty and welfare
  • comparative social policy development
  • EU social policy.

Mary is taking forward her work in these and other areas in three main ways. First, she is researching the persistence of gender inequality, comparing developments in a range of fields but especially highlighting the role of social policy in terms of its aims and the way it politicises issues. The questions that she is exploring here include why gender inequality has fallen down the policy hierarchy and why countries vary in how they prioritise it?

Secondly, she is extending her research on family and public policy, being especially interested in the increasing tendency for social policy to go ‘inside’ the family to influence the practice and texture of family life In this work she is analysing parenting policies, child-related policies, work-life balance, care provision for older people. She applies a comparative lens to these subjects, opening up the question of what it is about the family that matters most to policy today and how does the complex relationship between family and policy change over time. A related interest is in how families respond to policies and create their own systems of meaning and practice within the context of the prevailing policy and public opinion worlds.

A third strand to her work is EU 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. This includes work on the social policy significance of Brexit for example. But beyond this, she continues to research the development of social policy under Europe 2020, carrying out theoretical and empirical work on the guiding concepts of social policy reform in the EU and the implications for individuals, families, states and societies.

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 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); 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 and Society, European Societies, Policy and Politics, Journal of Common Market Studies, Social Politics. Social Policy & Administration. She has also published in numerous edited volumes, and completed policy reports for a wide range of governmental and non-governmental organisations.

Her recent research projects include: 

Assessing and Monitoring Family Policy (2015-2016) 
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 at:   

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 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:

  • Family policy in high-income countries: Five decades of development

  • The European Semester and EU Social Policy

  • Asset-based approaches, older people and social care: an analysis and critique

  • Towards a theorization of the relationship between poverty and family

  • Generations, age and life course: towards an integral social policy framework of analysis

  • The Implications of the Departure of the UK for EU Social Policy

  • Money-Related Meanings and Practices in Low-Income and Poor Families

  • Introduction

  • Combining Paid Work and Family Care: Policies and Experiences in International Perspective

  • Family Policy

  • Families and poverty: Everyday life on a low income

  • Introduction: Parenting Support in European Countries: A Complex Development in Social Policy

  • Parenting Support as Policy Field: An Analytic Framework

  • Parenting Support in England: The Bedding Down of a New Policy

  • Poverty and social policy in Europe 2020: ungovernable and ungoverned

  • More

Other outputs

Daly, M. (2018) 'Swinging Both Ways – EU Social Policy after Brexit' - Blog piece for Oxford Department of Social Policy and Intervention 24/10/2018 

Full publications list (pre-2016)


  • 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.
  • Deputy chair of the sub-panel for sociology in both the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and the Research Excellence Framework (REF)
  • 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 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;
  • children’s social policy
  • the application of different methodologies to understand social policy variations in a comparative perspective.
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