The Esping Andersens Welfare Regime Typology

2445 words (10 pages) Essay in Politics

18/05/17 Politics Reference this

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This assignment will be analysing precisely on the Esping-Andersens welfare regime typology along with its illustration. In order for a better understanding of the illustration, three countries will be used as ideal examples for the different typologies, namely the United Kingdom, Sweden and Germany. In addition to the illustration using the three countries stated, the Esping-Andersen’s welfare regime will also be assessed further in depth.


There are two major paradigms of the explanation of the welfare state expansion which are the social and economic factors, and also the political factor. The social and economic factors are usually the main driving force of welfare state expansion which is also based on the logic of industrialisation. The industrialism is a long term and inevitable effect of economic development in which when the economic productivity increases, the resources for the welfare will necessarily increase too. Additionally, industrialism will bring in many other factors such as urbanisation and people’s relocation effects, population growth and their changing composition together with the growth of the nation state’s bureaucratic capability in terms of delivering their welfare (Quadagno, 1987). Another major explanation of expansion of the welfare is the political factors. The structure and generosity of welfare state can only be explained if we take into account the power resources of social classes and the fusions between them. In addition, powerful and trade union movements also the social democratic parties are also recognised as decisive political actors for the development of universal social rights. These two major theories of the development of the welfare state all have its relevance and are inter-related to each other (Castles, 2010). This is also what Esping-Andersen believes in.

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In Esping Andersen’s major and most influential work, written in ‘The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism’, he stated that de-commodification and also social stratification of a country are the key issues in terms of assessing the welfare state. These two are also known as the main indicators as measurements of quality of the welfare state provided. The first indicator, de-commodification in this perspective is actually the degree to which a social service is being rendered to the people of the country as a matter of right and to the degree which a person can maintain his livelihood without relying on the market (Pierson and Castles, 2006). Different typologies of welfare state have different degrees of de-commodification it offers to its people. The level of this de-commodification can be measured by three sets of dimensions which are the rules that govern people’s eligibility to welfare benefits, level of income replacement for those on benefits and the range of entitlements provided (Esping-Andersen, 1990). As for the other indicator, social stratification is the degree to which welfare state differentiates between different social groups, for instance on the basis of occupational status or gender (Cochrane et al, 2001).

The welfare states vary considerably with respect to those two principles; the de-commodification or social rights and stratification. As the welfare state variations are not linearly distributed as it is dependent on the different arrangements among the state, market and the family, Esping-Andersen stated that welfare states can then be divided into three different ideal welfare regime typologies. They are the liberal regime, conservative regime and finally, the social-democratic regime type (Kolberg, 1992).

The liberal welfare state is characterised by means-tested assistance, modest universal transfers, or modest social insurance plans that predominate. These cater mostly to people of low income (usually those in the working-class and are state dependents). This model of welfare state created entitlement rules that are strict and are also often associated to stigma although the benefits given out are in general modest. For this reason, the state will then encourage the market to guarantee and subsidise private welfare schemes. Subsequently, this welfare state regime minimises de-commodification effect and encourage a higher degree of social stratification due to the private schemes predominating and also the different welfare state recipients which will clearly result in inequality (Kolberg, 1992).

An archetypical example of this welfare regime model is the United Kingdom which will be used in order to illustrate and assess this welfare state regime better, although it was identified to be more of a hybrid-liberal regime before this. In accordance to the Esping-Andersen’s indicators for welfare state, the United Kingdom’s de-commodification is fairly low and thus fit into the Esping-Andersen ideal model of liberal regime. According to him, the United Kingdom has a low index of de-commodification of 23.4 which is the combination of the following individual de-commodification indexes; pensions of 8.5, sickness benefits of 7.2 and unemployment insurance of 7.7 (Bambra, 2006). As for the country’s social stratification, the score is 6 within the liberal scale which is deemed to be medium-low (Scruggs and Allan, 2006). This aspect however does not fit into the ideal liberal welfare regime of Esping-Andersen which is supposedly to be high. In addition to that, unlike the traditional liberal countries such as the United States (which is known as the prototype of liberal regime), the United Kingdom has a National Insurance system which was introduced by Beveridge in 1942 (Spicker, 2012). Included in this system is the National Health Service (NHS) which is provided to all on a free of charge basis which is not a character of a typical liberal regime. Along with that, the United Kingdom consists of four different constituent countries which have their own devolved self-government such as that in Scotland which its education structure is different to that in the other part of the country. This is also one of the main criticisms of Esping-Andersen’s welfare regime as it cannot be found in pure form such as in this case. However, the United Kingdom can still be categorised to be a liberal regime as the country generally only provides social security to its people based on their need which this can be referred to act only as a safety net. Additionally, this social security offered by the state funded by taxation are only very limited and are highly stigmatised due to its means-tested distribution such as the Working Tax Credit even though they do give out benefits to those who need it most (Schifferes, 2005). Moreover, as the recent current policy reforms in the United Kingdom that affect the social security such as the NHS, which its principle of universality and future is subject to change, only sums up to push the country further in becoming more into the liberal regime. All the discussed aspects of the United Kingdom’s welfare system pretty much tally up the country’s regime of being in the liberal typology.

The second welfare regime identified by Esping- Andersen is the conservative welfare state regime. This regime is typified by a moderate level of de-commodification. This regime type is shaped by the twin historical legacy of Catholic social policy, on the one side, and corporatism and total control of the state over individual citizen (etatisme) on the other side. This blend had three important consequences in terms of stratification. The first one is the direct influence of the state will be restricted to their provision of income maintenance benefits related to the people’s occupational status which means that the sphere of unity remains quite narrow and corporatist. Moreover, in this regime labour market participation by married women is strongly discouraged, because the corporatist regime which is highly influenced by the Church are committed to the preservation of traditional family structures (the classic male breadwinner model). Social rights as reflected in the degree of de-commodification produced by state policies and program however, did not include the gender dimension of women who perform unpaid labour which is another main criticism of Esping-Andersen’s welfare regime from feminist view (Sainsbury, 1999). Another important characteristic of this regime model is the principle of ‘subsidiarity’, a situation where the state rather than the market will interfere when the family’s capacity to meet its family member’s need is unmet (Arts and Gelissen, 2002). Due to these reasons, the degree of stratification this welfare regime produce is fairly high.

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An example of the conservative welfare regime is the country Germany, which is the prototype illustration of this regime. Following Esping-Andersen’s indicator of de-commodification, Germany score 27.7, in which it is considered to be as medium. This score combined the three individual de-commodification indexes of the following; 8.5 of old age pensions, 7.9 for the sickness benefits and finally, the unemployment insurance of 11.3 (Bambra, 2006). This is in accordance to Esping-Andersen’s suggestion of conservative regime that has a medium degree of de-commodification. The welfare for the people in Germany is based on their occupational scheme and is funded through their personal contribution. As stated, the old age pension score in the de-commodification index for Germany is low as it requires the people to contribute for quite a period of time for their pension rights together with a large amount of individual financial contribution. As a result, the replacement rate of contribution for the people will be different as it is dependent on the occupation. This consequently results in a high social stratification for the country at a score of 8 in the conservative scale (Scruggs and Allan, 2006). In addition to that issue, the country made familial obligations its priority and thus, practise the principle of male breadwinner model in which only the male in the family are allowed to be in the labour market. The vindication for this is that if women are allowed to be working, the country’s social security will then have to be re-constructed, as traditionally their welfare is highly dependent to that of their spouses or male family member as their welfare source. Due to this reason of oppressing women’s right, the gender inequality is remarkably high in Germany particularly, in terms of income as women are usually performing unpaid labour work such as childcare in their households as expected with the feminist criticism view on the Esping Andersen’s regime typology. The social welfare of women is tied up to their spouses instead of on their own. Also, it is the market (employers) itself that organise the employees social insurance instead of the state (they are also known as the ‘social partners’). All of these factors of Germany discussed correspond to the characters of an ideal conservative model as per discussed by Esping-Andersen himself. A reason of why as suggested by Arts and Gelissen (2002) that Germany is definitely the ideal type conservative regime.

Finally, Esping-Andersen recognises a social democratic world of the welfare capitalism.

In this model, the level of de-commodification is high, and the social-democratic principle of stratification is directed towards achieving a system of generous universal and highly distributive benefits not dependent on any individual contributions, thus the degree of social stratification is ideally low. Contrary to that of the liberal regime of welfare states, ‘this welfare model crowds out the market and, consequently, constructs an essentially universal solidarity in favour of the welfare state’ (Esping-Andersen, 1990). The social policy within this model of welfare state is focused at maximising the capabilities of individual independence. Women in particular regardless of their status of whether having to provide childcare or not, are also encouraged in participating in the labour market, especially in the public sector. This type of welfare state regime is generally dedicated to full employment for its entire people in order to support the welfare state. Only by making sure that as many people as possible are in employment, is it possible to maintain such a high level unity welfare system as suggested by Arts and Gelissen (2002).

In order to further analyse this welfare regime better, Sweden will be used as an illustration in order to discuss this in greater depth as many of the aspects of the social democratic model are indeed identified in the Swedish welfare state. This country has the most progressively redistributive welfare states under capitalism as it spends a great proportion of its national income on their welfare benefits and services than any other capitalist state, comparatively with particular emphasis on the concept of universality and participation of its citizen unlike the liberal and conservative models. This explains why Sweden has a profoundly high level of de-commodification of 39.1 with the pensions of old-age of 17.0, sickness benefits of 15.0 and also unemployment insurance of 15.0 as stated by Esping-Andersen (Bambra, 2006). Also, this is the reason why Sweden has a low degree of social stratification of 8 in the socialist stratification score (Scruggs and Allan, 2006). Sweden’s focus on the equality of its citizen is due to the path dependence of the strong social-democratic political dominance along with the fact that for several decades over 80 per cent of the Swedish workers have been organised in trade unions (Cochrane et al, 2001). The key element of this country’s generous welfare policies is full employment to its entire citizen including women which this also contributes to the low degree of stratification. Additionally, children’s welfare state is also fully taken care of throughout their lives (not just at certain age only) by the state instead of the family also as a right of citizen similar to that of women. Although the recent welfare reforms in Sweden has been happening due to the economic crisis (such as increase in income inequality and market instead of state welfare provider), Sweden is still in its own distinct group of social democratic model of welfare state (Kautto et al, 1999). This proves that the criticism of other scholars such as that of Kangas (1994) on the stability of Esping-Andersen’s typology over time is found ungrounded in this case of Sweden.


The Esping-Andersen’s welfare state regimes along with its two main indicators have been analysed above in order to better understand the illustrations of the welfare regime models provided by the three countries chosen to represent the regime. Although the country chosen for liberal welfare model is not the usual prototype country which is the United Kingdom, it has given a better understanding on how it is actually a hybrid before turning more into a liberal regime during the recent years now following the latest reforms. Additionally, it also shows that not all regimes come in pure form which is also one of the criticisms of this regime typology. As for the other two countries, Germany and Sweden, they are the prototype countries in representing their respective welfare regimes; conservative and the social democratic which gives a further, better explanation for the other two Esping-Andersen’s welfare regimes along with highlighting the problem of his regime typology that excluded the female gender dimension.

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