European welfare systems current state of research and some theoretical considerations

Klaus Schubert, Simon Hegelich, Ursula Bazant

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Looking from the outside, comparing world regions, the most significant characteristic of the European Union (EU) is the high level of welfare and social benefits. Viewed from within, the central characteristic is of course the plurality, the high level of differentiation and variance between the member states. This distinctive feature – plurality and variance – particularly applies also to the welfare systems in the states of the EU. The comparatively high level of material and financial benefits, the circle of direct and indirect beneficiaries and the peculiarities of national domestic policy elucidate why great importance is attached to welfare and social policy in the political practice of all EU countries. The same can be applied to political science research. It was in particular comparative welfare state research that carried out the pioneering work and produced highly valuable results. However, it is not surprising that the empirical diversity, even beyond the European framework, spawned attempts at the theoretical systematization and categorization even at an early stage. A particularly outstanding and to this day influential work classifies the most important Capitalist economies in just three welfare regimes (Esping-Anderson 1990). The persistent and recently increasing criticism of this work, however, concerns the limits of ideal types and categorization. In view of the high national significance of welfare and social policy – at least from a European standpoint – this theoretical and abstract distance of political science to the actual subject matter is very remarkable. What is similarly surprising is that having introduced certain categories or rather types of welfare state or regime types, particularly in comparative research, the number of countries studied or used as evidence remained relatively small. As a consequence, in spite of the lively and broadly based welfare state research, no attempt was made to at least make a descriptive survey of the European Welfare Systems. In a research context this would be interesting because even good theoretical generalizations tend to restrict the relevance for empirical factors. On an empirical level this is interesting because in the last few years all of these systems were under pressure to reform. Added to this is the fact that the picture of the European welfare systems has changed significantly. This has occurred through (a) the processes summed up under the headword globalization, (b) through the enlargement processes of the EU, (c) through the If one is to a reference for national investigations or as independent research subject matter, it is advisable to create an overview of the current state of affairs of the European Welfare Systems. It is intended that this volume should serve this purpose. For the first time all 27 EU member countries will be analysed using the same categories and structure to show the development, current situation and problems. Over 30 experts from all the EU states have contributed. The result is a comprehensive overview of the welfare systems in Europe at large, a kind of mapping out of the European welfare landscape. The evaluation of this survey has yet to be concluded since the individual extracts must be analysed in relation to each other. In this sense, this volume can be regarded as ‘pre-comparative’. It is our view that comparative welfare research in particular first of all needs an affirmation of its empirical basis. Our assumption is that the briefly mentioned developments have eroded the theoretical groundwork of welfare research. Since this thesis has provided the structural guidelines for analysing the individual welfare systems, these will subsequently be looked at in more detail on a theoretical level. Following the chapters on the individual welfare states, it will then be shown if and to what extent the empirical findings substantiate this.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Handbook of European Welfare Systems
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781134015511
ISBN (Print)9780415482752
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


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