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World Politics

Vol. 65, No. 1

January 2013

Path Shifting of the Welfare State: Electoral Competition and the Expansion of Work-Family Policies in Western Europe

By Kimberly J. Morgan

What explains the surprising growth of work-family policies in several West European countries? Much research on the welfare state emphasizes its institutional stickiness and immunity to major change. Yet, over the past two decades, governments in Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom have introduced important reforms to their welfare regimes, enacting paid leave schemes, expanded rights to part-time work, and greater investments in child care. A comparison of these countries reveals a similar sequence of political and policy change. Faced with growing electoral instability and the decline of core constituencies, party leaders sought to attract dealigning voter groups, such as women. This led them to introduce feminizing reforms of their party structures and adopt policies to support mothers’ employment. In all three cases, women working within the parties played an important role in hatching or lobbying for these reforms. After comparing three countries that moved in a path-shifting direction, this article engages in a brief traveling exercise, examining whether a similar set of dynamics are lacking in two countries—Austria and Italy—that have moved more slowly in reforming these policies. Against the prevailing scholarly literature that emphasizes path dependence and slow-moving change, this article reveals the continued power of electoral politics in shaping redistributive policies.

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