Welfare state modelling has long been an important strand within comparative social policy. However, since the publication of Esping-Andersen's ‘Worlds of Welfare’ typology, welfare state classification has become particularly prominent and a multitude of competing typologies and taxonomies have emerged. Each of these is based on different classification criteria, and each is trying to capture what a welfare state actually does. The result is that the literature is in a state of confusion and inertia as it is unclear which of these rival systems is currently the most accurate and should be taken forward, and which are not and should perhaps be left behind. This article extends Bonoli's two-dimensional analysis of welfare state regimes by using multivariate analysis of variance and discriminant analysis to compare and contrast the various classifications on universal criteria. It also examines the usefulness of the two-dimensional approach itself and suggests how it can be enhanced to benefit future attempts at holistic welfare state modelling. The article concludes that there are some welfare state classifications that are more useful than others, especially in terms of reflecting a two-dimensional analysis: it thereby ‘sifts the wheat from the chaff’ in terms of welfare state regime theory.