Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 91–125 | Cite as

Well-Being in the Welfare State: Level Not Higher, Distribution Not More Equitable

  • Ruut Veenhoven


The terms well-being and welfare are Often bracketed together, especially well-being and state welfare. The level of well-being is believed to be higher in welfare states, and its distribution more equitable. This theory is tested here in a comparative study of 41 nations from 1980 to 1990. The size of state welfare is measured by social security expenditures. The well-being of citizens is measured in terms of the degree to which they lead healthy and happy lives.

Contrary to expectation, there appears to be no link between the size of the welfare state and the level of well-being within it. In countries with generous social security schemes, people are not healthier or happier than in equally affluent countries where the state is less open-handed. Increases or reductions in social security expenditure are not related to a rise or fall in the level of health and happiness either.

There also appears to be no connection between the size of state welfare and equality in well-being among citizens of the state. In countries where social security expenditure is high, the dispersion of health and happiness is not smaller than in equally prosperous countries with less social insurance spending. Again, increases and reductions in social security expenditure are not linked with equality in health and happiness among citizens.

This counterintuitive result raises five questions: (1) Is this really true? (2) If so, what could explain this lack of effect? (3) Why is it so difficult to believe this result? (4) How should this information affect social policy? (5) What can we learn from further research?

happiness life expectancy health equality welfare state comparative 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ruut Veenhoven
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Social SciencesErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands

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