Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2003

Comparative Studies of Welfare States:
Gender, Class and Politics

Lecturer: Professor Ann Shola Orloff,
Departments of Sociology, Gender Studies and Political Science,
Northwestern University, Evanston, USA

Main disciplines: Sociology, Social Politics, Gender Studies
Dates: 28 July - 1 August 2003

Course description and objectives
Social provision - in all its myriad public and mixed public/private forms, from poor relief, "workingmen's insurance," "social security," to "welfare states" or "welfare capitalism" - has been a central focus of politics across the West in the centuries since modernizing states first began to challenge the Church for control of the functions of relieving those in distress, disciplining subjects and maintaining order, and found relief and other forms of social provision useful in larger projects of regulating and mobilizing populations.

Indeed, some public (or quasi-public) form of social provision was a distinctive feature of Western societies for a very long time, although in the last half-century public social security systems have spread to all corners of the globe (albeit covering very small proportions of the population outside the developed world). Church-state cleavages were but one of many affecting social politics and provision. The politics of social provision have centrally concerned the definition and meanings of citizenship, and have helped to constitute the relations between capital and labor, gender relations, the construction of "races," nations, ethnic groups, and the regulation of sexualities.

Given their political centrality and the extent of cross-national variation in policies and politics, modern systems of social provision - "welfare states" - have provided an important arena for the development of theories and analysis of the relationship between various forms of social inequality and politics. Following World War II, analysis focused on the relationship between citizenship (i.e., social rights to various welfare benefits) and social class; one key tradition asked about whether politics - working-class mobilization based on democratic political rights - could function to offset the power of capital in markets, while others believed welfare functioned to regulate labor for capital and legitimate employers' political preponderance.

In the 1980s, institutionalist scholars (re)introduced concepts of state-building, state capacities and state autonomy, and policy feedback to the discussion. Around the same time, feminist critiques emerged to consider the ways in which social provision related to gender. Perhaps unusually for the social sciences, in which a gendered segregation of topics often structures intellectual debate, a fruitful exchange among scholars of gender and "mainstream" researchers has developed around the ongoing transformations of welfare arrangements with respect to gender and class relations, and their repercussions for labor markets, care, and families. This course will provide an intensive introduction to some of the key debates that have emerged around gender, class and politics in comparative studies of welfare states in the developed world.

Essential Books


Recommended Reading
If you would like to familiarize yourself with current debates in the literatures on gender and welfare, you can look over the journal Social Politics: International Studies in gender, State and Society, which I co-edit with Barbara Hobson of Stockholm University; published by Oxford University Press,

Other journals of interest include Journal of European Social Policy, Global Social Policy, and Critical Social Policy; articles on systems of social provision or social politics are also to be found in the principal disciplinary journals (e.g., Acta Sociologica; American Sociological Review; British Journal of Sociology; American Political Science Review; European Societies).

I would recommend as well reading a couple of recent monographs or edited collections dealing with gender, social policy and social politics; the classics in the field such as Karl Polanyi's The Great Transformation or Essays on "The Welfare State" by Richard Titmuss; and the works which have come to constitute the "preliminary exam" canon (Lewis, Esping-Andersen, Pierson, Skocpol, Castles, Korpi, Scharpf and Schmidt, and so on).


Part I: Introduction: The Politics of Welfare States, Gender and Class

Lecture 1: The significance of welfare states and theories of variation in welfare regimes
In this introductory session, we will discuss the sociological and political significance of welfare states in contemporary Western states; the range of variation among systems of social protection and regulation, commonly termed welfare regimes; the impact of these variations in welfare arrangements on people's everyday lives and on politics; and the different theoretical traditions for explaining the emergence and development of modern welfare states and their diverse forms.


Lecture 2: The origins and historical development of welfare states
Programs of social insurance, social assistance, universal citizenship entitlement and public services that have come to be called "welfare states" developed in the first half of the century in Europe, North America and the Antipodes (and then in Latin America), as a complex set of political responses to industrialization, urbanization, demographic changes, democratization and bureaucratization. The political mobilization of working classes and, in some places, women's movements, was critical in transforming systems of social provision from deterrent poor relief and discretionary charity to programs based on social rights of citizenship. But women and men were not equivalent with respect to the social rights developed over the course of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, nor did they participate in equivalent ways politically in demanding state social protection. The lecture will offer an overview of the forces implicated in the emergence and development of modern welfare states, with a particular focus on political coalitions embedded in class and gender relations.


Part II: Welfare and Work, Paid and Unpaid

Modern citizenship is linked to women's and men's employment in a host of ways: citizens' claims to rights are both symbolically and programmatically based on paid work. Initially, full citizenship - in the sense both of enjoying rights and having duties - was masculine. Women were distinctly second-class citizens, explicitly when they were denied the franchise, but even after suffrage, implicitly, when women's access to paid work was limited by both law and custom. Men gained social rights - to pensions, unemployment insurance and the like - on the basis of their paid work, while women's access to benefits was usually mediated by their relationships to men. This set of arrangements has been challenged by women's movement into realm of paid work. Women are gaining symbolic and material resources for citizenship as well as access to benefits initially created with male workers in mind. Their increasing presence in the workforce has also spurred the development of new forms of income security, such as parental leaves, and the expansion of older programs of maternity coverage.

These two lectures take on the question of how work and gender relations are affected by welfare arrangements, particularly the institutional division of labor among states, markets and families in providing care and income. In lecture 3, we examine how the division of caregiving labor affects women and men of different classes in the labor market. Next, in lecture 4, we look more closely at the institutional arrangements different countries make for child care, and consider the relationships among caring, citizenship, collective responsibility, equality and economic efficiency. Links between social policy and fertility will also be considered.

Lecture 3: Gender in the labor market

Lecture 4: Caring, gender and social citizenship


Part III: Families, Gender, Class and States

Old family and gender arrangements offered some assurance that caregiving would be supported, but at the price of women's economic dependency and the concomitant weakening of their citizenship claims. This support has become more unstable as marriage has become more insecure, which in turn has contributed toward encouraging women's greater rates of employment. Still, levels of economic dependency remain quite substantial, particularly where women's employment receives little public support or private encouragement.

The economic dependency of many (but no longer all) women - their "derived dependency" -- results largely from their attending to the "inevitable dependency" of children, the elderly and the disabled; it leaves them vulnerable to poverty if they find themselves outside stable marriage or without good employment. Indeed, many more women and children face economic insecurity, especially as systems of social provision have not yet satisfactorily provided guarantees or substitutes for absent parents' contributions. There are significant cross-national differences in the extent to which states offer benefits to mitigate poverty or programs to support the employment and economic independence of women with significant caregiving responsibilities.

In many countries, individuals' options with respect to sexuality and family or household formation have broadened out; for women this is partly related to their greater economic power resulting from employment. Thus families are more diverse, and non-family households have increased. Divorce has become more easily available and there is greater tolerance for cohabitation; as a consequence, marriages are less stable. Women's economic independence, and in some cases men's declining capacities to earn family-supporting wages, have been associated with the decline of the breadwinner-caregiver household and declining marriage rates; instead, we see dual-earner couples - and sometimes a greater role for men in caregiving, single-parent households and single-person households.

In these two lectures, we examine the implications of these changing social arrangements and the ways in which diverse systems of social provision affect (in)dependence, families and households. In lecture 5, we focus on welfare provision and the gendered structuring of (in)dependence and individuals' capacities to exercise citizenship rights. In lecture 6, we turn to the effects of social provision on solo mothers and on men as fathers, particularly whether state policies enable caregiving.

Lecture 5: Dependence, independence and social citizenship


Lecture 6: Family forms and welfare regimes


Part IV: New Pressures, New Politics and New Visions of Welfare

Lecture 7: The politics of gendered welfare regimes
The ways in which politics and state policies affect gender relations varies considerably across countries and over time; one can understand much of this variation by calling upon the well-developed explanatory apparatus of comparative welfare regime studies. The contemporary comparative literature on welfare states has developed on the basis of the insight that "politics matter," which had emerged from debates between modernization analysts and scholars emphasizing the importance of political forces. This does not imply that the character of the economy does not matter for policy developments; rather, economic developments are linked to patterns of class formation, systems of interest representation (of workers and employers), balances of power among important economic groups and fiscal capacities. Systems of interest representation (of workers and employers); state structures and capacities; and political party configurations are critical forces in shaping social provision.

Many analysts emphasize the significance of the configuration of political parties for gender policy models, arguing that stances on women's employment reflect parties' positions on a left-right dimension and a confessional-secular dimension. In general, left and secular parties have been more open to women's employment than have right and confessional parties, although here one must signal the role of feminist organizing in getting parties to accept this position - it was not an automatic evolution from their initial egalitarian or equal-opportunity positions. One must also attend to specifically gendered interests and ideologies at work in shaping policies around employment, and to political organizations mobilized around gender explicitly or implicitly.

The particular gender ideologies and differential mobilization of women's movements and their opponents are important, but so also are the gendered interests, ideologies and mobilization of employers and labor organizations in favor of particular forms of women's employment - or women's non-employment. The particular organizational form of egalitarian women's political activities has varied widely, shaped by the nationally- or regionally-specific political-institutional contexts within which all political actors work, and the historically-specific political opportunity structures in place at particular moments of organizing.

In this lecture, we will explore the political and social forces associated with the different gendered welfare regimes.


Lecture 8: Gender, welfare and politics beyond the West
Modern welfare states have been a feature of all Western, developed democracies, but as more countries industrialize and democratize, and become more deeply integrated into the world system of states, modern forms of social provision once limited to the West have spread, though not with the same results as in their "native habitat."

In this lecture, we will explore models of welfare in the developing world, and in the post-socialist societies as they move away from the distinctive (state) employment-based forms of social provision that characterized Eastern European socialism. These new arenas of social politics and policy provide us not only with fresh fields for evaluating existing understandings of social provision, but offer novel insights.


Lecture 9: The restructuring of contemporary welfare regimes

Lecture 10: What future for welfare?
The mature welfare states of the contemporary West are facing new challenges, internal and external. The so-called "golden age" of welfare state expansion in the 1960s and 1970s, is now understood as related to an expanding economy, which in turn depended on the security and productivity of workers as undergirded by systems of social provision. The varied trends grouped under the rubric of "globalization," signalling especially increased economic openness, are commonly understood to change the balance of power between capital and labor by enhancing capital mobility and employers' capacities to exact policy concessions and tax reductions on threat of exit.

Yet quite different political arrangements have flourished under similar economic conditions - both during the "golden age" and today, when increased economic openness and intensified competition are common challenges. Moreover, there are significant pressures for change related to domestic factors: aging populations and fertility declines, new demands for "reconciliation" of family and work, strained state fiscal capacities and the like. In lecture 9, we examine these forces and the varied ways in which states are restructuring in response to these challenges; in lecture 10, we think beyond what seems possible in the present to consider what kinds of new welfare arrangements we might like to see.


The lecturer
Ann Shola Orloff is a full professor of sociology, and is also affiliated with the departments of Political Science and Gender Studies, and the Institute for Policy Research. Orloff's areas of interest include political sociology, historical and comparative sociology, sociology of gender, and social (including feminist) theory. Her research has focused on the relationship of state-building processes, state capacities and structures, and policy legacies to the making of social policies, and on the ways in which states affect and are affected by social relations across a range of institutions.

She has worked on macro-level studies of gender relations, particularly in systems of social provision; here, her most notable contribution has been to develop an analytic framework for assessing the gendered dimensions of state welfare policies. The fruit of this work, States, Markets, Families: Gender, Liberalism and Social Policy in Australia, Canada, Great Britain and the United States, co-authored with Julia O'Connor and Sheila Shaver, was published by Cambridge University Press in 1999.