Perspectives on Politics

Research Article

Assessing the Welfare State: The Politics of Happiness

Alexander Paceka1 and Benjamin Radcliffa2

a1 Department of Political Science at Texas A&M University. E-mail: e339ap@ polisci.tamu.edu

a2 Department of Political Science at Notre Dame University. E-mail: radcliff.1@nd.edu

Abstract

While there is a vast and highly contentious literature devoted to understanding the economic, social, and political consequences of the welfare state, little attention has been paid to the fundamental question of whether social security programs actually improve the overall quality of human life. We attempt such an appraisal, using the extent to which individuals find their lives to be satisfying as an evaluative metric. Considering national rates of satisfaction in the industrial democracies from the 1970s to the present, we find that citizens find life more rewarding as the generosity of the welfare state increases, net of economic or cultural conditions. The implications for social policy are discussed.

Footnotes

Alexander C. Pacek is associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Texas A&M University (e339ap@polisci.tamu.edu). Benjamin Radcliff is professor in the Department of Political Science at Notre Dame University (radcliff.1@nd.edu). A previous version of this paper was given at the 2006 Political Studies Association meeting. The authors would like to thank the following who offered valuable advice and assistance: Amy Gille, Rodney Hero, David Nickerson, David Peterson, Benjamin Freeman, Jason Smith, and David Rossbach.

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