In this article we try to investigate the empirical validity of the convergence thesis, which assumes that welfare states are increasingly similar because more generous universal welfare states are adopting policies of retrenchment and neo-liberalization. Using data on the popularity of neo-liberal ideology, welfare state expenditures and the generosity of this spending for 16 western countries, we find that there is no general trend towards neo-liberalization and retrenchment. However, we do find that there is a trend towards convergence. More generous, universal welfare states are becoming more liberalized, and liberal welfare states are expanding, which causes convergence in the middle. At the end of the article we attempt to explain why welfare states are converging. We find that although they do not converge on neo-liberalization as is often thought, two common explanations used to support the neo-liberal convergence arguments, globalization and Europeanization, can explain the ‘‘middle-of-the-road’’ convergence found here.

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Keywords Europeanization, Sociale verandering, sociale processen en sociale conflicten, Sociologie, Sociology, convergence, divergence, economic globalization, neo-liberalization, welfare state ideology
Persistent URL,
Series Centre for Rotterdam Cultural Sociology (CROCUS)
Journal Journal of International and Comparative Social Policy
Achterberg, P.H.J, & Yerkes, M.A. (2009). One Welfare State Emerging? Convergence versus divergence in 16 western countries. Journal of International and Comparative Social Policy, 25(3), 189–201. doi:10.1080/17486830903189931