Investigating Welfare State Change
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Investigating Welfare State Change

The ‘Dependent Variable Problem’ in Comparative Analysis

Edited by Jochen Clasen and Nico A. Siegel

With contributions from leading international scholars, this important book presents a comprehensive examination of conventional indicators (such as social spending), available alternatives (including social rights and conditionality), as well as principal concepts of how to capture change (for example convergence and de-familization). By providing an in-depth discussion of the most salient aspects of the ‘dependent variable problem’, the editors aim to enable a more cumulative build-up of empirical evidence and contribute to constructive theoretical debates about the causes of welfare state change. The volume also offers valuable suggestions as to how the problem might be tackled within empirical cross-national analyses of modern welfare states.
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Chapter 3: Too Narrow and Too Wide at Once: The ‘Welfare State’ as Dependent Variable in Policy Analysis

Giuliano Bonoli


3. Too narrow and too wide at once: the ‘welfare state’ as a dependent variable in policy analysis Giuliano Bonoli INTRODUCTION The ‘welfare state’, the object of a substantial amount of policy research over the last three decades or so, is an ill defined entity. Definitions found in the literature tend to be based either on vague notions such as ‘policies that aim to improve people’s welfare’ or as enumerations of policies that belong to the welfare state. None of these approaches is really satisfactory. In the former case, it is difficult to think of a policy that does not aim to improve people’s welfare. In the latter, by relying on an unspecified listing of policies, we miss the criterion that tells us what belongs to the welfare state and what doesn’t. This confusion has arguably always represented a problem for social policy research, but in the current postindustrial social and economic context, an unclear understanding of what we mean by ‘the welfare state’ is a major obstacle to insightful analysis. Over the last 20 years or so, we have witnessed the development of new policies, such as child care or active labour market policies, which have little in common with the traditional protective and de-commodifying function of postwar welfare states. These new policies do not aim to protect individuals from market forces; instead they have the objective of improving their chances to succeed in the market. They do not promote de-commodification; they improve the...

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