Comparative European Politics

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 49–71 | Cite as

The political economy of social assistance and minimum income benefits: a comparative analysis across 26 OECD countries

  • Olaf van Vliet
  • Jinxian WangEmail author
Original Article


Social assistance benefit schemes are a peculiar type of welfare state program. As the electoral costs are relatively low, this program forms an obvious target for cost reduction in times of austerity. The aim of this study is to examine the determinants of the developments in social assistance benefits. We seek to make two contributions. First, this paper provides insight into the role of economic, political, and institutional determinants of the variation in social assistance benefits. Second, cross-national data on social expenditures and income replacement rates are available for several welfare state programs, but not for social assistance benefits. Presenting minimum income benefit replacement rates, this study analyzes the developments of social assistance benefits across 26 OECD countries over the past two decades. The analysis leads to the conclusion that budgetary pressure stemming from increased exposure to international trade and soaring levels of unemployment is associated with benefit cuts.


Comparative political economy Welfare state Globalization Social assistance 



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 23rd International Conference of Europeanists (CES, 2016). We thank all participants and Koen Caminada, Kees Goudswaard, Carlo Knotz, Michal Polakowski, David Rueda, Duane Swank, Dorota Szelewa, Stefan Thewissen, Tim Vlandas and Chen Wang for useful comments and suggestions. The study has received support from the European Commission’s 7th Framework Program under Grant Agreement no. 312691, InGRID—Inclusive Growth Research Infrastructure Diffusion.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsLeiden UniversityLeidenThe Netherlands

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