25 Years of ‘Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism’


.  Gøsta Esping-Andersen
Gøsta Esping-Andersen
Why celebrate the 25th birthday of an academic book? While many books collect dust on library shelves long before that age, some become classics of their discipline. Gøsta Esping-Andersen’s The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism – arguably the most influential contribution to comparative welfare state research ever written -is just such a book.

A new special issue of the Journal of European Social Policy, with guest editorsPatrick Emmenegger from the University of St. Gallen, Jon Kvist of Roskilde University, and Paul Marx and Klaus Petersen, both at the at the University of South Denmark, reflects on the impact of this seminal work. For a limited time, the entire issue is freely available to read.

In Three Worlds, Esping-Andersen demonstrates that the different historical and political trajectories of capitalist societies produced three distinct types of welfare state, which in turn reflect different political ideologies (liberal, conservative and social democratic).  The work shows us that these three welfare state types have systematically different economic, political and social consequences.  The book had an immediate impact on comparative welfare state research, and twenty-five years after its publication, itcontinues to inspire research and debate.  The contributions in this special issue not only assess the impact of Three Worlds on different debates, but also look forward, advancing the debates the work initiated.

Euro Social Policy coverFor example, Jennifer Hook takes her point of departure from the critique of the neglect of gender and care in Three Worlds. While much of the subsequent feminist literature developed alternative typologies of ‘gender regimes’, Hook defends the relevance of Esping-Andersen’s work.  Analysing work–family arrangements, she argues that class inequality is the missing variable that connects Three Worlds and alternative typologies of ‘gender regimes’.

The subjects considered in this special issue are wide ranging: Jane Gingrich and Silja Häusermann analyse class-based voting; Torben Iversen and David Soskice discuss the relationship between Three Worlds and the influential Varieties of Capitalism literature; Daniel Oesch analyses the relationship between equality and employment in post-industrial economies; Philip Manow examines the social and political origins of the so-called ‘fourth’ welfare regime in Southern Europe; while Kees van Kersbergen and Barbara Vis reflect on  the (dominant) role Three Worlds has played in comparative welfare state research.

Of course, the birthday child must have the last word and the special issue thus concludes with an essay by Gøsta Esping-Andersen on the effect of the welfare state on social mobility, a subject he himself considers to be neglected in his original work. In this essay, he shows that while social democratic welfare states have enhanced the chance of upward mobility for working-class offspring, this equalization did not diminish the advantages bestowed upon the privileged classes.

This is a significant collection of work which we hope will continue to inspire further research and debate on the role and impact of the welfare state. You can also let us know what you think via @SAGEsocialwork, using the hashtag #3worlds.


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