Regional Integration and Welfare-State Convergence in Europe
The contemporary institutionalization of an international, regional polity and market in the European Union raises key questions about the role of regional integration in the convergence of European welfare states. To date, sociological work has emphasized processes of industrialization and globalization as the social changes that may drive increasing similarity among welfare states. Building on neoinstitutionalist world polity theory and the Europeanization literature from political science, this lecture develops the argument that regional integration drives welfare-state convergence by generating, diffusing, and enforcing the adoption of policy scripts concerning “appropriate” welfare policy. The hypothesis that deepening regional integration drives growing welfare-state convergence is tested with time-series data on variation in welfare spending and novel measures of regional integration, for European Union and OECD countries, over the 1960-2005 period. Results support the hypothesis: regional integration is associated with a reduction in variation among the welfare states of the European Union. This suggests that in theorizing contemporary changes in the welfare state, sociologists should attend to the institutionalization of regional political economy. Welfare states can be conceptualized as embedded in regional, as well as global, systems and institutions.
Jason Beckfield is Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.