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 5: Social Expenditure Under Scrutiny: The Problems of Using Aggregate Spending Data for Assessing Welfare State Dynamics

Johan De Deken and Bernhard Kittel


Johan De Deken and Bernhard Kittel INTRODUCTION Since the late 1980s the governments of most OECD countries have been concerned with reorganizing their welfare states in general, and their retirement systems in particular. Through such reorganization they seek to prepare for – or hope to ward off – the financial crisis of welfare arrangements that has been predicted for the coming decennia. Scholarly contributions have focused on the directions reforms take and the conditions under which they take place (Bonoli et al., 2000; Pierson, 2001). More specifically, cross-national research has put much effort into exploring the extent to which the ideological position of governments influences the size and direction of welfare state reform (e.g. Pampel and Williamson, 1985; Huber and Stephens, 2001; Kittel and Obinger, 2003; Castles, 2004; Galasso and Profeta, 2004). In order to measure reform and change, these scholars have largely relied on the Social Expenditure Database (SOCX) of the OECD, which is considered to be the most reliable source for comparable data on social expenditure. While it is granted that, as has been repeatedly warned, expenditure data contain little information about the substantive content of welfare efforts, they are generally regarded as a valid indicator of overall welfare effort. The results of these research efforts into the political determinants of social expenditure cannot have been more ambiguous. Kittel and Obinger have summarized a variety of studies revealing contradictory coefficient estimates, depending on the period and countries included, the variables included, and the...

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