The circumstances which favoured the expansion of state welfare in the post-war ‘golden age’ – secure growth, full employment, moderate welfare needs and national politico-economic autonomy – have been reversed in the ‘silver age’ of labour market restructuring, demographic transition and economic globalisation. Most researchers argue that the European welfare settlement is (so far) surprisingly resilient in the face of current challenges. This article argues that analysis of welfare states has been approached from two basic directions – quantitative analysis and comparative case study – and that each approach has its merits and difficulties. Using the example of pensions policy it show that quantitative methods tend to produce findings which place greater emphasis on continuity and resilience, while case studies focus attention more on political processes. The latter approach is likely to provide greater insight into shifts that may lead to new policy directions in the immediate future. The picture presented by the quantitative method tends to predominate in comparative cross-national studies of the response of welfare states to current pressures, and this may overemphasise stability and resilience against discontinuity and change.
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