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Assessing the Welfare State: The Politics of Happiness

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 June 2008

Alexander Pacek
Department of Political Science atTexas A&M University. E-mail: e339ap@
Benjamin Radcliff
Department of Political Science atNotre Dame University. E-mail:


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.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2008

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