I want to write a book. Period. I love the ups and downs of the writing process. The reading and then thinking on the page. Making messes with words then slowly tidying them up like tapping a stack of papers on a desk to line up the edges. I love those times when I get so absorbed in my work that the timer goes off and I never hear it. I even love the days when 15 minutes seems like forever and my brain is all a tangle. It’s a puzzle and I know I’ll find the right thread to pull eventually as long as I keep showing up.
So when someone asks me what I’m doing on my sabbatical, my current answer is, I’m working on a book. They look at me expectantly. I look back at them. They look at me. Etc., etc., etc. Faculty advise doctoral students to have the “elevator pitch” – that 20 to 30 second blurb about your dissertation that you can spout off at the drop of a hat. Oh, Professor Woodward – take thy own advice.
Consider this my pitch – for now. Subject to change, feedback welcome. (I’m hoping for slow elevators).
If you haven’t been living in a hole somewhere, you know that the population is getting older across most of the world. Most of us need some help as we age and, while informal caregivers are important, we will probably need some professional help, too. But, while the number of older adults increases, the workforce available to meet their needs is shrinking. Not only that, but economic changes are straining health and social welfare systems and everyone is looking for politically acceptable and cost effective solutions.
I am comparing how the United States, Finland, and Estonia are addressing these issues within the context of their different welfare systems. All three countries are relatively similar in economic organization, mortality and morbidity, and their exposure to the forces of globalization. And yet they vary in important ways in their historical development, culture, and structure of services. The U.S. is a largely market driven system that relies heavily on private non-profit and faith-based organizations to provide many services to those in need. Historically and culturally there is resistance toward state intervention (e.g., ongoing challenges to the Affordable Care Act), and there is significant cultural heterogeneity.
Finland and Estonia are similar geographically, sharing a border and a history with Russia, and have similar languages, belonging to the Uralic family of languages along with Hungarian. They also have similar political structures and social welfare systems with universal health and social services administered largely through municipalities. At the same time, Finland is culturally Nordic while Estonia is culturally Slavic.
Each of these countries does some things better than the others. Some of one country’s strengths might be portable to other countries, but which ones? And how much are those strengths embedded in cultural norms that can be easily translated to another country? Ultimately, I hope a combination of population-level data and qualitative interviews with care providers, care recipients, and policymakers can help pull some of this apart. And then I can browbeat policymakers with it.
But really, I just want to write a book.