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 10: Convergence in European Welfare State Analysis: Convergence of What?

Julia S. O’Connor


Julia S. O’Connor INTRODUCTION Our understanding of institutional change and convergence is generally more intuitive than systematic. We think we know what we mean by convergence but in fact several alternative understandings are possible. Institutions and policies could become more alike, for instance, by becoming more like those already in existence in one country, or they could all change to some new configuration. (Kitschelt et al., 1999: 438) . . . policy convergence can be defined as any increase in the similarity between one or more of the characteristics of a certain policy (e.g. policy objectives, policy instruments, policy settings) across a given set of political jurisdictions over a given period of time. (Knill, 2005: 768) [Convergence is] the tendency of societies to grow more alike, to develop similarities in structures, processes and performances. (Kerr, 1983: 3) These quotations point to two levels at which convergence is considered: institutional convergence and policy convergence. Studies of convergence often concentrate on the change in ‘performances,’ to use Kerr’s terminology, as reflected in structural and/or social indicators such as GDP per capita, social expenditure as a percentage of GDP or rates of unemployment but the basis on which convergence, or its absence, is asserted is often not sufficiently specified. This includes a failure to identify clearly the dependent variable, the scope of convergence and the relevant time period over which it is measured. With a view to assessing its usefulness in comparative welfare state analysis and the apparently contradictory claims...

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