Get access

Why Do Welfare States Persist?


Clem Brooks is Rudy professor of sociology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405-7103. Jeff Manza is professor of sociology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208-1330, and visiting professor of sociology, New York University, New York, NY 10012.


The shape and aggregate output of welfare states within many developed democracies have been fairly resilient in the face of profound shifts in their national settings, and with respect to the global environment of the past 20 years. This contrasts with once-widespread predictions of universal retrenchment, and it has broadened debates over trends in social policymaking to focus on the phenomenon of welfare state persistence. Research on persistence has not, to date, directly considered the possibility that welfare states survive because of enduring popular support. Building from recent welfare state theory and the emerging literature on policy responsiveness, we consider the possibility that mass public opinion—citizens’ aggregate policy preferences—are a factor behind welfare state persistence. We analyze a new country-level data set, controlling for established sources of welfare state development, and buttressing estimates by testing for endogeneity with respect to policy preferences. We find evidence that the temporal distribution of policy preferences has contributed to persistence tendencies in a number of welfare states. We discuss results in conclusion, suggesting the utility of further consideration of linkages between mass opinion and social policy in cross-national perspective.