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Welfare State Persistence in OECD Democracies (WP-05-06)

Clem Brooks and Jeff Manza

Welfare states within most developed democracies appear quite resilient in the face of profound shifts in their national settings, and with respect to the turbulent global environment of the past 20 years. This contrasts with once widespread predictions of retrenchment, and it has refocused debates over trends in social policymaking on the phenomenon of welfare state persistence. The resilience of mature welfare states is of further significance in light of the possibility that the causal forces underlying persistence differ from those accounting for their initial historical development. Using recent formulations of power resources and path dependency approaches, and also the emerging literature on policy responsiveness, we argue for the importance of considering mass policy preferences as a mechanism behind welfare state persistence. Analyzing a new country-level dataset, we find that economic and demographic factors have exerted significant pressures on contemporary welfare states, but of far greater importance are the larger effects of mass policy preferences and constitutional structures. Further analyses suggest that more extensive changes in policy preferences have the potential to alter the trajectory of welfare state development, particularly within European democracies. We discuss implications of these results for advancing emerging debates over welfare state persistence.

Clem Brooks, Professor of Sociology, Indiana University, Bloomington

Jeff Manza, Professor of Sociology; Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

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