Social Indicators Research

, Volume 89, Issue 1, pp 179–191 | Cite as

Welfare Policy and Subjective Well-Being Across Nations: An Individual-Level Assessment



In the vast and diverse literature on determinants of life-satisfaction and happiness, there is a relative dearth of empirical research on the role of specifically political factors. We identify one such possible factor, the industrial welfare state, and assess its impact on how individuals perceive their well-being. The voluminous literature on the welfare state highlights its position as one of the most profound chapters in the latter-day human experience, but focuses on its indirect effects on well-being through economic and social conditions. We contend that the welfare state exerts a more direct effect to the extent that individuals experience very real impacts on their quality of life. Considering individual responses in 18 industrial democracies from 1981 to 2000, we find that welfare state generosity exerts a positive and significant impact on life-satisfaction and happiness. We discuss implications for further research generated by these findings.


Welfare Policy Subjective well-being Happiness Life-satisfaction 


  1. Atkinson, A. (1999). The economic consequences of rolling back the welfare state. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bjornskov, C., Dreher A., & Fischer J. (2005) The bigger the better? Evidence of the effect of Government size on life satisfaction around the world. Economics Working Paper Series, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology: Zurich.Google Scholar
  3. Buckingham, A. (2000). Welfare reform in Britain, Australia, the United States. In P. Saunders (Ed.), Reforming the Australian welfare state. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Families Studies.Google Scholar
  4. Butler, S., & Kondratas A. (1987). Out of the poverty trap. Free Press.Google Scholar
  5. Castles, F. G. (1982). The impact of parties on public expenditures. In F. Castles (Ed.), The impact of parties: Politics and policies in democratic capitalist states. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  6. Castles, F. G. (1998). Comparative public policy: Patterns of post-war transformation. Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  7. Chung, R. C., & Bemak, F. (1996). The effects of welfare status on psychological distress among Southeast Asian refugees. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 184(6), 346–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cummins, R. (1998). The second approximation to an International standard for life satisfaction. Social Indicators Research, 43, 307–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Diener E., & Suh E. M. (Eds.). (2000). Culture and subjective well-being. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  10. Di Tella, R., & MacCulloch, R. (2005). Gross national happiness as an answer to the easterlin paradox? Macroeconomics 0504027.Google Scholar
  11. DiTella, R., MacCulloch, R. J., & Oswald A. J. (2003). The macroeconomics of happiness. Review of Economics and Statistics, 85(4), 809–827.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dorn, D., Fischer J., Kirchgassner G., & Sousa-Poza A. (2007). Direct democracy and life satisfaction revisited: New evidence for Switzerland. Journal of Happiness Studies.Google Scholar
  13. Esping-Andersen, G. (1985). Politics against markets: The social democratic road to power. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Esping-Anderson, G. (1988). Decommodification and work absence in the welfare state. San Domenico, Italy: European University Institute.Google Scholar
  15. Esping-Anderson, G. (1990). The three worlds of welfare capitalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Fraser, N. (1997). Justice interruptus: Critical reflections on the “postsocialist” condition. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Frey, B., & Stutzer, A. (1999). Happiness prospers in democracy. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1, 79–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Frey, B., & Stutzer, A. (2002). Happiness and economics. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Friedman, M., & Friedman, R. (1979). Free to choose. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.Google Scholar
  20. Gilder, G. (1993). Wealth and poverty. New York: ICS Press.Google Scholar
  21. Helliwell, J, & Huang, H. (2005). “How’s Your Government? International Evidence Linking Good Government with Well-Being.” Presented at Goteborg conference on the Quality of Government, November 17–19 2005.Google Scholar
  22. Hicks, A. (1999). Social democracy and welfare capitalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Hicks, A., & Swank, D. (1992). Politics, institutions, and welfare spending in industrialized democarcies, 1960–1982. American Political Science Review, 86(3), 658–674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Inglehart, R. (1990). Culture shift in advanced industrial democracies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Inglehart, R. (1997) Modernization and postmodernization: Cultural, economic, and political change in 43 societies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Kalil, A., & Danziger, S. (2000). How teen mothers are faring under welfare reform. Journal of Social Issues, 56, 777–800.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kenworthy, L. (1999). Do social-welfare policies reduce poverty? A cross-national assessment. Social Forces, 77(3), 1119–1139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kenworthy, L., & Pontusson, J. (2005). Rising inequality and the politics of redistribution in affluent countries. Perspectives on Politics, 3(3), 449–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lane, R. (1978). Autonomy, felicity, futility. Journal of Politics, 40(Winter), 1–24.Google Scholar
  30. Lane, R. (2000). The loss of happiness in market democracies. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Lapinski, J., Riemann, C., Shapiro, R., Stevens, M., & Jacobs, L. (1998). Welfare-state regimes and subjective well-being: A cross-national study. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 10(1), 2–24.Google Scholar
  32. Lascher, E., Jr., & Wassmer, R. (2007). “Reconsidering claims about the secondary benefits of direct democracy.” Unpublished manuscript,
  33. Layard, R. (2005). Happiness: Lessons from a new science. London: Allen Lane.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lindblom, C. (1977). Politics and markets. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  35. Marshall, T. H. (1950). Citizenship and social class. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Marx, K. ([1867] 1954) Capital: A critique of political economy, Vol. 1, (trans: Moore, S. and Aveling, E.), E. Friedrich (Ed.). Moscow: Progress Publishers.Google Scholar
  37. Messner, S. F., & Rosenfeld, R. (1997). Political restraint of the market and levels of criminal homicide: A cross-national application of institutional-anomie theory. Social Forces, 75(4), 1393–1416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Murray, C. (1984). Losing ground: American social policy, 1950–1980. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  39. Myers, D. (1993). The pursuit of happiness. New York: Avon Books.Google Scholar
  40. Myers, D., & Diener, Ed. (1995). Who is Happy? Psychological Science, 6, 10–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Myers, D., & Diener, Ed. (1997). The science of happiness. The Futurist, 31, 27–33.Google Scholar
  42. Olson, M. (1982). The rise and decline of nations. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Ouweneel, P. (2002). Social security and well-being of the unemployed in 42 countries. Journal of Happiness Studies, 3, 167–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Polanyi, K. (1944). The great transformation. New York: Rinehart and Co.Google Scholar
  45. Pontusson, J. (2005). Inequality and prosperity: Social Europe versus liberal America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Radcliff, B. (2001). Politics, markets, and life satisfaction: The political economy of human happiness. American Political Science Review, 95(4), 939–952.Google Scholar
  47. Rokkan, S. (1970). Citizens, elections, and parties. Oslo, Norway: Universitetsforlaget.Google Scholar
  48. Saunders, P. (Eds.) (2000). Reforming the Australian welfare state. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.Google Scholar
  49. Scruggs, L. Comparative welfare entitlements dataset. Department of Political Science, University of Connecticut 2005. Accessed April 15, 2005.Google Scholar
  50. Veenhoven, R. (1993). Happiness in nations. Rotterdam: Risbo.Google Scholar
  51. Veenhoven, R. (1994). Is happiness a trait. Social Indicators Research, 32, 101–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Veenhoven, R. (1996). Developments in satisfaction research. Social Indicators Research, 37, 1–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Veenhoven, R. (1997a). Advances in understanding happiness. Revue Quebecoise de Psychologie, 18, 29–74.Google Scholar
  54. Veenhoven, R. (1997b). Quality of life in individualistic societies. In M-J DeJong & A. C. Zijderveld (Eds.), The gift of society (pp. 149–170). Nijker, The Netherlands: Enzo Press.Google Scholar
  55. Veenhoven, R. (2000). Well-being in the welfare state: Level not higher, distribution not more equitable. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis, 2, 91–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Watson, D., & Clark, L. (1991). Self Vs. peer ratings of specific emotional traits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 927–940.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wilensky, H. (1975). The welfare state and equality. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceNotre Dame UniversityNotre DameUSA

Personalised recommendations