In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Welfare State Development

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Data Sources on Welfare
  • Journals
  • Origins of the Welfare State
  • The State and Welfare
  • Postwar Expansion in Europe
  • American Exceptionalism
  • Communist Welfare States
  • Feminist Perspectives
  • Crisis, Challenge, and Retrenchment
  • Globalization and Welfare
  • Migration, Informalization, and New Global Divisions of Labor
  • Welfare, Clientelism, and Nonstate Provision
  • New Approaches and Technologies

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Political Science Welfare State Development
Linda Cook
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 August 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0053


The modern welfare state originated in industrializing Europe, in the English system of “poor laws” that supplemented private and church-based charity, and more fully, in the workers’ social security system established by Bismarck in 19th-century Germany. Welfare provision in Europe expanded after both world wars, growing into systems that provided publicly funded social insurance, health care, education, income security, and family supports, with the United States seen as a “welfare laggard” in comparison with European systems. In the industrial democracies the welfare state experienced its golden age of expansion in scope and generosity from 1945 to 1980. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, globalization, demographic change, and other factors have produced pressures for retrenchment. Scholarship initially focused on Organisation for Economi Co-operation and Development (OECD) welfare states and entitlements linked to formal employment, then extended to include Communist and developing states, women and “care work,” and broader issues of global stratification, privatization and informalization, clientelism, and nonstate provision.

General Overviews

All welfare states use public expenditures to provide social security and services, but the states vary significantly in levels of spending, programmatic structures, relations with labor markets, and distributive effects. Welfare states both result from and in turn structure class and social orders and systems of stratification. Scholars have focused on conceptualizing types and identifying clusters—welfare state regimes and families in Europe (Esping-Andersen 1990, Castles 1993), and insecure, productivist, and protectionist regimes in the developing world (Gough and Wood 2004, Rudra 2008). Titmuss 1987 provides a historical overview; Castles 2010 provides an early-21st-century overview. Sen 1999 proposes a reconceptualization of welfare, from provision to capability.

  • Castles, Francis G., ed. Families of Nations: Patterns of Public Policy in Western Democracies. Aldershot, UK, and Brookfield, VT: Dartmouth, 1993.

    A historical-cultural approach to explaining differences across Western welfare states; the authors identify “families of nations”—English speaking, German speaking, and Scandinavian speaking—and argue that shared cultures produced similarities in policy approaches and outcomes.

  • Castles, Francis G., Stephan Leibfried, Jane Lewis, Herbert Obinger, and Christopher Pierson. The Oxford Handbook of the Welfare State. Oxford Handbooks in Political Science and International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199579396.001.0001

    Authoritative source on all aspects of welfare states—philosophical foundations, emergence, development, models and conceptualizations, actors, institutions, policies, attitudes, gender, migration and minorities, influence of the European Union, and international organizations. Focused on the OECD, includes emerging welfare states in Latin America, East Asia, and eastern Europe.

  • Esping-Andersen, Gøsta. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

    Seminal study that reconceptualized welfare states, identifying three distinct welfare regime types in the OECD—liberal, conservative, and social democratic—and explained their origins based on political power resources and historical and institutional factors. Esping-Andersen’s welfare regimes and “decommodification index” served as touchstones for many later studies.

  • Gough, Ian, and Geof Wood. Insecurity and Welfare Regimes in Asia, Africa, and Latin America: Social Policy in Development Contexts. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511720239

    First major attempt to extend conceptual analysis of welfare regimes to developing states in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Authors use concepts of “informal security regimes” and “insecurity regimes” to capture reliance on family and community, clientelistic, precarious, often futile strategies for meeting basic needs. Welfare effects of international dependencies, migration, and so on are included.

  • Rudra, Nita. Globalization and the Race to the Bottom in Developing Countries: Who Really Gets Hurt? Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511491870

    Conceptually innovative study that extends analysis of welfare regimes to the more or less successfully developing states of India, Brazil, and Korea, finding qualified support for the “race-to-the-bottom” argument and identifying new typologies of productivist, protectivist, and dual developing-country welfare models.

  • Sen, Amartya. Development as Freedom. New York: Knopf, 1999.

    Nobel Prize–winning economist argues for a “capability” approach to human welfare that places freedom at the core of development, emphasizing people’s fundamental need for material, political, and social means to counter poverty and realize their potential. Sen presents a major alternative to the standard view of development as economic growth.

  • Titmuss, Richard. The Philosophy of Welfare: Selected Writings of Richard M. Titmuss. Edited by Brian Abel-Smith and Kay Titmuss. London: Allen and Unwin, 1987.

    Introduction to Richard Titmuss’s influential normative theories and broad-ranging empirical research on welfare states, including categorizations of welfare programs and models and limits of redistribution.

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