Is the US considered a welfare state? If so, where would it be classified using the Esping-Andersen's welfare classification?

2 Answers 2


In Esping‐Andersen's The three worlds of welfare capitalism typology, the USA is classified as a "Liberal" welfare state (along with the UK, Australia, Canada and Ireland) and in contrast with the "Conservative" type (Finland, France, Germany, Japan) or the Social Democratic (Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Austria) (Source)

Esping Andersen is not using "Liberal" in the sense that it is used to describe more left-wing Democrats in the USA. It implies modest means-tested benefits, aimed mostly at the working class with strict entitlement rules, and considerable social stigma attached to receiving benefits.

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    Esping-Andersen is a Danish sociologist and he is using the term "liberal" in the usual sense that it is used in Europe. Also, the strict division of welfare in the three categories that Esping-Andersen is using is somewhat controversial as he herself acknowledges blends exist. Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 2:44

It should be noted that the whole point of Esping-Andersen's welfare classification is to not look at welfare expenditure, which is/was the received method of classification. If we go by this more classical measure, which despite Esping-Andersen's viewpoint didn't go out of style with economists, the US scores somewhat below the OECD average, but not by a whole lot...

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...but not so low if you consider the ACA (Obamacare) private health insurance as mandatory... (The large yellow sub-bar in the US case)

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... which didn't last as mandatory for long during Trump's presidency.

Also of note, other post Esping-Andersen classifications that attempt to account for the healthcare dimension come a somewhat different picture, in which the US and the UK are similar on one dimension (the Esping-Andersen decommodification, basically), but quite different on the healthcare one (in the non-Obama US approach)...

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  • Interesting to see Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France and Austria classified as Northern European.
    – JAD
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 9:40
  • @JAD how so? That's certainly how I would categorize them. Possibly because I'm Greek, but I have always thought of the horizontal divide being quite clearly between North and South with no center. So Germany, France etc would be North while Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal would be South.
    – terdon
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 11:25
  • @terdon I would call France, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium (and Luxembourg) Western Europe. Austria probably belongs with Germany culturally, but both west and north is a bit of a stretch geographically. North Europe in my (dutch) mind is more like Scandinavia.
    – JAD
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 12:32
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    @JAD the north-south divide in Europe has traditionally been the Alps/Pyrenees
    – Dale M
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 21:01
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    @JAD Dutch here. We refer to any countries (that start) below Belgium as "South Europe". Only one I'm not sure about is France. That's possibly through the middle. Commented Dec 24, 2019 at 14:58

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