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Welfare Attitudes and Social Expenditure: Do Regimes Shape Public Opinion?


This article examines the link between regime types, social expenditure, and welfare attitudes. By employing data on 19 countries taken from the World Values Survey, the main aim is to see to what degree the institutions of a country affect the attitudes of its citizens. According to Esping-Andersen (The three worlds of welfare capitalism. Polity Press, Cambridge, 1990) welfare regimes can be classified into Liberal, Conservative, and Social Democratic categories. With this as my point of departure, I put forward two research questions: the first concerns the direct influence of regime type on people’s attitudes; the second seeks to trace the contours of the regime types by arguing that both social expenditure and welfare attitudes are products of a country’s institutional arrangements. These questions are answered through regression modelling and by examining the interplay between welfare attitudes, social expenditure, and welfare regimes. First, we see that there are significant differences in aggregated attitudes between countries belonging to the Liberal and the Conservative regimes, with the former’s citizens holding more rightist views than those of the latter. This is explained by the history and organization of welfare benefits of the two variations of Esping-Andersen’s classification. Second, by graphing welfare attitudes against social expenditure the outline of the three regime types mentioned above may be seen. Similar correspondence is not found with regards to an Eastern European category. All in all, this study renders some support for the regime argument.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    It can also be argued that the causation goes the other way. For example, the egalitarian economic and societal structure, history, and values of the Nordic countries laid the foundation of the modern welfare state. In addition, countries have different cultures external experiences, and even public preferences. Even so, my argument is that the relationship between institutions and modern day attitudes is to a large degree one where the former influences the latter.

  2. 2.

    A replication using data from 1998 to 99 was made by Bambra who questions the existence of the Three Worlds of Welfare. Similar conclusions were drawn by Scruggs and Allan.

  3. 3.

    More information about the WVS can be found at http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org. These datasets are made available through the Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD). Neither Ronald Inglehart, WVS nor NSD are responsible for the analysis or interpretations made in this article.

  4. 4.

    See Jæger (2009) for a discussion on regime ranking.

  5. 5.

    The population is randomly drawn individuals from the countries listed in Table 2. The exact wording of the questions used in the analysis is as follows: Incomes should be made more equal versus We need larger income differences as incentives for individual effort; The government should take more responsibility to ensure that everyone is provided for versus People should take more responsibility to provide for themselves; and Competition is good. It stimulates people to work hard and develop new ideas versus Competition is harmful. It brings out the worst in people.

  6. 6.

    The questions that make up the index were not available in the first wave of the World Values Survey. I only investigate high-income economies, with the exception of Poland which is included due to their presence in the Eastern European category.

  7. 7.

    Models including the Human Development Indicator (HDI) (UNDP 2007) as a control are presented in the Appendix. The effect of regime type does not differ significantly from the main models when including this variable, except for Model 4. Here the effect of Continental regime is close to significant and Southern regime is not significant. This is not unsuspected, as these latter only consist of two countries. Altogether, the results are robust.

  8. 8.

    This is done in order to see if there were any significant differences between the Conservative and the Social-Democratic models.

  9. 9.

    See Brooks and Manza (2006) for a discussion about the feedback between attitudes, policies, and expenditure.


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I would like to thank Ola Listhaug, Jon S. E. Jakobsen, Audun Fladmoe, Tor-Eirik Olsen, John G. Taylor, and the anonymous referee for valuable input in the process of writing this article.

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Correspondence to Tor Georg Jakobsen.



See Tables 6, 7, and 8.

Table 6 Regression model of welfare attitudes (country means), three regime types plus Eastern Europe, including HDI as control
Table 7 Regression model of welfare attitudes (country means), including a Southern regime type, including HDI as control
Table 8 Regression model of welfare attitudes (country means), South Korea omitted, including HDI as control

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Jakobsen, T.G. Welfare Attitudes and Social Expenditure: Do Regimes Shape Public Opinion?. Soc Indic Res 101, 323–340 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-010-9666-8

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  • Public opinion
  • Welfare state
  • Social expenditure
  • Esping-Andersen