In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Policy in Denmark

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Professional Associations
  • Social Statistics and Data

Social Work Social Policy in Denmark
Klaus Petersen, Cecilie Bjerre
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0314


Danish social policy is typically discussed within the framework of the Danish welfare state model, generally considered one of the most comprehensive social security systems in the world. The Danish welfare state model is the result of more than one hundred years of historical development. While the Danish social policy traditions date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some core policy principles have remained stable over time. Denmark is considered part of the family of Nordic welfare states. The main characteristics of the Danish welfare model are universalism in the form of comprehensive national schemes that include all citizens regardless of income; an emphasis on both income transfers and welfare services; comparatively generous benefits in amount and duration; a strong reliance on tax financing; and high levels of redistribution. However, within the general system of the Danish welfare state as it is actually implemented, a more complex mixture of specific social policy programs has evolved. Three factors explain this complex development. First, even though core principles have a long history, from the 1960s Denmark has witnessed a massive social policy expansion, making it stand out with respect to social spending levels, program adoption, generosity, and redistribution. It was especially in the area of family policies and welfare services that the Danish welfare system expanded dramatically during the 1960s and 1970s. Second, this major expansion of the Danish welfare state was an incremental process rather than an implementation of a systematic master plan. Hence, specific social policies and programs often deviate from the ideal of tax-based social rights by also including elements of voluntarism or insurance, user fees, or degrees of targeting. Ostensibly, universal social policy programs continually defined and refined the group(s) of people covered (typically based on citizenship and/or residency); access criteria (e.g., age); and the methods used to determine specific benefits (e.g., differentiation between family providers and nonproviders). The third factor behind the complex nature of the Danish welfare system is that ideals and reality does not always mesh. Overall, Danish social policies fare well in an international comparison in terms of social security and social services. However, as pointed out by several of the entries in the list below, Danish social policies were and are not perfect. Marginalization, problems of coordination, lack of funding and staff resources, and neglected social problems are all part of the story. Especially since the 1980s, the combined effects of marketization, globalization, and concerns for the long-term financial sustainability of the Danish welfare state have placed additional pressure on the ideals often associated with the Danish model. The Danish welfare state has always included a mix of public and private measure but in recent decades the “public-private mix” has moved toward favoring private actors and individualized responsibility. The following selection of literature on Danish social policy includes both English and Danish language publications; priority has been given to the literature published in English.

Introductory Works

General introductions to the Danish welfare state are available both in Danish and English. Danish publications include book-length introductions focusing on policies and effects, such as Fridberg 2003, as well as a more theoretically oriented introduction (Jensen and Klitgaard 2014). In English, recently published handbook chapters Greve 2020 and Petersen 2020 offer concise introductions to the Danish welfare state model with an emphasis on developments over the past two decades. For the longer historical background, see Christiansen and Petersen 2001. There are a large number of studies on the Nordic model of welfare which also include sections on Danish welfare policy and practice. Furthermore, the publications mentioned under the section Reference Works often include chapters describing the Danish welfare model.

  • Christiansen, Niels Finn, and Klaus Petersen. 2001. The dynamics of social solidarity: The Danish welfare state, 1900–2000. Scandinavian Journal of History 26.3: 177–196.

    DOI: 10.1080/034687501750303846

    Short historical overview of the development of Danish social policy throughout the 20th century including major policy reforms as well as a discussion of the major political and socioeconomic causes behind this development.

  • Fridberg, Torben. 2003. Socialpolitik—Indsats og virkninger. Copenhagen, SFI, Det Nationale Forsknings-Og Analysecenter for Velfærd.

    This report is a general introduction to social policy in Denmark. Fridberg addresses broad issues such as solidarity in the population, social policy, and core welfare areas such as disability, elder care, and homelessness. The report includes a literature review of social policy reports produced by VIVE, the independent Danish center for social science research.

  • Greve, Bent. 2020. Denmark: A universal welfare system with restricted austerity. In Routledge handbook of European welfare systems. Edited by Sonja Blum, Johanna Kuhlmann, and Klaus Schubert, 129–144. Oxon, UK: Routledge.

    In this chapter, Greve offers an overview of the design of the Danish welfare state, its financing, and its administrative structure. The chapter also provides an analysis of the main developments by policy sectors, including pensions, labor market policy, health, family policy and social assistance.

  • Greve, Bent, Paula Blomqvist, Bjørn Hvinden, and Minna van Gerven. 2021. Nordic welfare states: Still standing or changed by the COVID-19 crisis? In Special issue: Social policy in the face of a global pandemic: Policy responses to the COVID‐19 crisis. Edited by: Daniel Béland, Rod Hick, Amilcar Moreira, Peter Whiteford, and Bea Cantillon. Social Policy and Administration 55.2: 295–311.

    DOI: 10.1111/spol.12675

    This article offers a discussion on the impact of COVID-19 on the Nordic welfare states. How did the pandemic challenge Nordic welfare states, and what was the response? The authors find, that overall, the pandemic strengthened key characteristics of the Nordic model, such as universalism and the role of the state.

  • Jensen, Carsten, and Ole Klitgaard. 2014. Velfærdsstaten: En introduktion. Copenhagen: Hans Reitzel.

    This introductory textbook presents the Danish welfare model in comparative perspective. Jensen describes the organization of the Danish welfare state by asking three main questions that also organize the book: What is the welfare state? Why do we have a welfare state? And what are the effects of the welfare state on society?

  • Petersen, Klaus. 2020. Welfare state policies. From the beginning towards an end? In The Oxford handbook of Danish politics. Edited by Peter Munk Christiansen, Jørgen Elklit, and Peter Nedergaard, 541–558. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This chapter provides a concise introduction to the Danish welfare state model and its development over the past four decades. It introduces the main principles of social policy in Denmark as well as describing specific developments in major policy areas. It concludes with a discussion on whether or not these recent changes can be considered a genuine paradigmatic change.

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