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 12: Pension Reform: Beyond Path Dependency?

Sven Jochem


Sven Jochem Change is eternal. Nothing ever changes. Both clichés are true. (Immanuel M. Wallerstein, 1974: 3) INTRODUCTION1 It hardly seems necessary to emphasize that over the past two decades mature welfare states have changed in more than one respect. How can we assess these changes? Do these developments reflect dynamic adaptations of welfare programmes which, in the end, reinforce the basic welfare state institutions that had been founded several decades ago? In other words: are contemporary changes path dependent? Or do these changes imply programmatic and institutional innovations which alter the fundamental logic of welfare states? Contemporary welfare state research focuses on the question whether historical welfare paths are stable or undergo profound changes, which would imply that they have transcended the boundaries of historical paths. In this respect, the concept of path dependency is widely used, especially in comparative pension policy research. This chapter discusses basic dimensions of the path dependency concept in comparative welfare state research (cf. Thelen, 1999; 2004; Mahoney, 2000; Schwartz, 2000; Pierson, 2004; Streeck and Thelen, 2005). Different approaches to measuring processes of path dependency are introduced, discussed (second section) and confronted with results of case studies on recent pension developments in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden (third section). Developments in mature pension systems are chosen because they serve as the locus classicus for path dependency arguments (Myles and Pierson, 2001). As a conclusion in the fourth section, I argue that path dependency is indeed a valuable concept which helps...

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