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 7: Welfare State Generosity Across Space and Time

Lyle Scruggs


Lyle Scruggs INTRODUCTION Comparative analyses of welfare state reforms have relied overwhelmingly on public spending data as the indicator of welfare state commitment and change. However, scholars have long emphasized the problems with spending outputs and also stressed the importance of programmatic elements of welfare state policies. One particular focus has been on national commitment to social citizenship rights. This general line of research has offered few alternative measures that are compatible with comparative analysis across many countries and long periods of time. Those that do exist, such as the Social Citizenship Indicators project at the Swedish Institute of Social Research, are not generally available to scholars (see Kangas and Palme, Chapter 6, this volume). This has led to two reinforcing cleavages in welfare state research: largen comparisons of many countries testing general theories but relying on spending data as proxies of welfare state generosity (or effort), and smalln comparisons with sui generis data sets that propose and demonstrate, but seldom really test, hypotheses. Both sides of the cleavage are subject to specific scientific limitations and advantages. For its part, the ‘large-n camp’ focuses on honing a well developed (if not uniform) set of empirical data to test analytical models and theories, but may be consistently misspecifying what the welfare state is. The more qualitative camp, by contrast, can often claim a more nuanced set of concepts, but lacks quantifiable leverage for scientific verification, or, in the case of single country studies, any...

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