Sociology Welfare1

Published on January 24th, 2013


Welfare Regimes and Welfare Attitudes

By Tor G. Jakobsen

All countries must in some way provide their citizens with protection against the risks of modern life in order to secure continued economic growth and political stability. Thus, the state must play a role in promoting the social well-being of the individual. In most countries there is general support for and acknowledgement of the positive social consequences of the welfare state, especially with regard to the area of health care.

In 1990 Esping-Andersen published his book The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Here he categorized welfare regimes according to three types: Liberal, Conservative, and Social-Democratic. The countries are grouped according to their level of decommodification, social stratification, and employment. Decommodification refers to the extent the individual’s welfare is dependent on the market; social stratification pertains to the importance of class structures and divisions in society; and employment is concerned with the private–public mix.

In the Social-Democratic regime citizens experience a high degree of decommodification, which is less extensive in the Conservative regime. In the Liberal welfare regime the state plays only a marginal role in social policy. Esping-Andersen’s classification provided a platform for the regime theory branch of public opinion research. Many researchers have drawn new boundaries and added additional regime types, including a Southern Mediterranean type.

The basis for regime theory in the study of public opinion is that a country has a distinctive set of institutions which also implies that there are collective patterns of social justice beliefs. Solidarity and social justice principles are rooted in welfare-state institutions which shape public discourse and individual attitudes. In addition, each regime type gives its citizens a personal welfare state experience, which in turn influences individual political orientations.

This implies that there are institutional feedback effects in which, following their creation, the regime institutions start to influence the surrounding political landscape. This effect can, for example, be seen in national health care. However, the regime effect is not necessarily uniform across countries, as each country has its own history and unique welfare state trajectory. The regime hypothesis states that institutional arrangements between the state, markets, and family will lead to systematic variations in opinion regarding economic questions.


Further reading:

Esping-Andersen, Gøsta (1990). The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press.


*Cover photo by Roger Wollstadt, Sidney photo by Daniel G. Peris

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