Why Welfare States Persist: The Importance of Public Opinion in Democracies

Why Welfare States Persist: The Importance of Public Opinion in Democracies

Why Welfare States Persist: The Importance of Public Opinion in Democracies

Why Welfare States Persist: The Importance of Public Opinion in Democracies


The world's richer democracies all provide such public benefits as pensions and health care, but why are some far more generous than others? And why, in the face of globalization and fiscal pressures, has the welfare state not been replaced by another model? Reconsidering the myriad issues raised by such pressing questions, Clem Brooks and Jeff Manza contend here that public opinion has been an important, yet neglected, factor in shaping welfare states in recent decades.

Analyzing data on sixteen countries, Brooks and Manza find that the preferences of citizens profoundly influence the welfare policies of their governments and the behavior of politicians in office. Shaped by slow-moving forces such as social institutions and collective memories, these preferences have counteracted global pressures that many commentators assumed would lead to the welfare state's demise. Moreover, Brooks and Manza show that cross-national differences in popular support help explain why Scandinavian social democracies offer so much more than liberal democracies such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

Significantly expanding our understanding of both public opinion and social policy in the world's most developed countries, this landmark study will be essential reading for scholars of political economy, public opinion, and democratic theory.


Modern welfare states shape both individuals' life chances and the level of inequality in a society. This conclusion, based on a generation of social science research, holds across developed democracies in North America, Western Europe, Australasia, and Japan. These countries are all capitalist democracies, characterized by the existence of private property and class inequalities. But at the beginning of the twenty-first century they are also welfare capitalist societies, making available a wide range of public provisions that include pensions, health care, unemployment benefits, child care, job training, and educational programs.

While providing support through social policies, however, contemporary welfare states differ in important ways. the extent to which private property and labor markets govern the life chances of individuals varies with the generosity of welfare state policies. in Scandinavia, for instance, governments provide an encompassing array of benefits and services to citizens, and this establishes a safety net from childhood through old age. Where social provision is lower, as in liberal-democratic regimes such as the United States, individuals rely more extensively on markets and other private sources of income. Pronounced differences between welfare states are key sources of the “varieties of capitalism” (Hall and Soskice 2001) that have animated recent scholarship in political economy and comparative politics.

The proposition that welfare states shape the patterning of inequalities in contemporary societies has a distinguished, if contentious, pedigree. in the wake of dramatic increases in postwar government spending in the United Kingdom, including the 1946 establishment of the National Health Service, T. H. Marshall (1950) advanced his seminal interpretation of the . . .

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