Skip to main content

Why Welfare States Persist

The Importance of Public Opinion in Democracies

The world’s richer democracies all provide such public benefits as pensions and health care, but why are some far more generous than others? And why, in the face of globalization and fiscal pressures, has the welfare state not been replaced by another model? Reconsidering the myriad issues raised by such pressing questions, Clem Brooks and Jeff Manza contend here that public opinion has been an important, yet neglected, factor in shaping welfare states in recent decades.

Analyzing data on sixteen countries, Brooks and Manza find that the preferences of citizens profoundly influence the welfare policies of their governments and the behavior of politicians in office. Shaped by slow-moving forces such as social institutions and collective memories, these preferences have counteracted global pressures that many commentators assumed would lead to the welfare state’s demise. Moreover, Brooks and Manza show that cross-national differences in popular support help explain why Scandinavian social democracies offer so much more than liberal democracies such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

Significantly expanding our understanding of both public opinion and social policy in the world’s most developed countries, this landmark study will be essential reading for scholars of political economy, public opinion, and democratic theory.

204 pages | 35 line drawings, 19 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2007

Studies in Communication, Media, and Public Opinion

Political Science: Comparative Politics, Political Behavior and Public Opinion

Sociology: Individual, State and Society


Why Welfare States Persist makes important predictions about how social welfare policies will hold up under increased globalization and provides illuminating explanations of their histories. This book will be of great interest to researchers and students in comparative social policy, public opinion, and political behavior.”<Robert Y. Shapiro, Columbia University>

Robert Y. Shapiro, Columbia University

“Brooks and Manza pose a bold challenge to research on welfare state development by demonstrating the impacts of mass public opinion on cross-national social welfare policy. They rescue mass public opinion from one-sided institutional accounts and from crude portrayals of citizen attitudes as merely ‘national values’ with little or no political significance.”<Lawrence R. Jacobs, University of Minnesota> 

Lawrence R. Jacobs, University of Minnesota

“Lots of scholarly energy has been invested in trying to understand variation in welfare state entitlements. But in explaining this variation, surprisingly little attention has been paid to differences in public opinion. In this conceptually smart and empirically rich book, Brooks and Manza remedy this deficiency. They convincingly show that variation in welfare state outcomes is related to enduring differences in popular preferences. Their ‘embedded preferences’ approach to the topic deserves a wide audience in sociology, political science, and policy studies.”<Doug McAdam, Stanford University> 

Doug McAdam, Stanford University

“Why do some countries spend so much more than others on social welfare policies? Because, in large measure, their citizens want them to. Why hasn’t there been major retrenchment of such policies, in the face of globalization and other forces? Because the public doesn’t want retrenchment. And why do preferences persist within countries and vary between countries? Because they are embedded in collective memory, educational institutions, and the social groups to which people belong. In Why Welfare States Persist, Clem Brooks and Jeff Manza present a careful, cogent, and concise analysis of welfare state spending, showing in their comparison of social-democratic, Christian-democratic, and liberal-democratic states that the key word is ‘democratic.’ Why Welfare States Persist should affect debates about the sources of policy change for years to come.”<Paul Burstein, University of Washington>

Paul Burstein, University of Washington

"This succinct argument is a must read for faculty and graduate students interested in the restructuring of welfare states over the past two decades."


"Brooks and Manza have made a useful contribution by combining information from several sources to link public opinion and public policy on welfare provision. . . . The book makes a compelling case for how policy differences among countries can persist, even in our modern, globalized, and post-socialist economy."

Andrew Gelman | Political Science Quarterly

"The authors of this well-written and thoroughly-documented book take us on a detailed journey through the historical development of theory and research on welfare states over the last half century, paying particular attention to comparative international dimensions. They bring an abundance of data and sophisticated analytical techniques to bear on the challenging task of teasing out the reasons why different countries and categories of countries which share certain characteristics differ in the level of welfare effort."

Allan Brawley | Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare

"The authors present a compelling argument for the importance of public opinion as an integral factor in welfare policy. . . . This work will be of value for scholars who study the influence of public opinion on policy makeing in general, as well as for those interested in welfare policy specifically."

Keith A. Clark II | Political Studies Review

Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables
Introduction: The Welfare State, Mass Opinion, and Embedded Preferences

Chapter 1: Reaching for Mass Opinion
Chapter 2: Do Policy Preferences Explain Welfare State Differences?
Chapter 3: Retrenchment, Restructuring, Persistence     
Chapter 4: The Question of Convergence
Chapter 5: Where Do Welfare State Preferences Come From?
Chapter 6: The Patterning of Social Policy Responsiveness
Chapter 7: Embedded Preferences and Welfare State Trajectories


Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press