Race, Ethnicity and Welfare States

Race, Ethnicity and Welfare States

An American Dilemma?

Globalization and Welfare series

Edited by Pauli Kettunen, Sonya Michel and Klaus Petersen

In this interdisciplinary volume, leading and emerging scholars examine the relationship between homogeneity and welfare state development. They trace Gunnar Myrdal’s influence on thinking about race in the US and explore current European states’ approaches to the strangers in their midst, and what social citizenship looks like from a global perspective.

Chapter 1: Swedish roots to Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma (1944)

Maribel Morey

Subjects: politics and public policy, migration, social policy and sociology, comparative social policy, migration, welfare states


Scholars have long assumed that Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal had no prior knowledge of black Americans when he went to the USA to collect data for the two-volume study An American Dilemma. This chapter argues, however, that Myrdal was hardly a blank slate when he arrived, nor was his conclusion – that Americans’ racial differences were caused by environmental factors such as discrimination, and that if white Americans changed their behaviour to live up to their egalitarian ideals, black Americans would take on the values, culture and traits of the dominant race – solely the result of the data he and his team of researchers collected between 1938 and 1942. Instead, the analysis of population quality in mid 1930s Sweden that he had developed with his wife Alva informed his approach, as did the concept of the American Creed, which was the centrepiece of the propagandistic book that the couple wrote in early 1940s Sweden.