The welfare state determinants of health: Implications of regimes and pathways

Janet Perkins-Hausen, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Background. Population health within and between nations is heavily influenced by political determinants, yet these determinants have received significantly less attention than socioeconomic factors in public health. It has been hypothesized that the welfare state, as a political variable, may play a particularly prominent role in affecting both health indicators and health disparities in developed countries. The research, however, provides conflicting evidence regarding the health impact of particular regimes over others and the mechanisms through which the welfare state can most significantly affect health. Objective. To perform a systematic review of the literature as a means of exploring what the current research indicates regarding the benefits or detriments of particular regimes styles and the pathways through which the welfare state can impact heath indicators and health disparities within developed countries. Methods. A thorough search of the EBSCO, Pubmed, Medline, Web of Science, and Scopus electronic databases was conducted and resulted in the identification of 15 studies that evaluated the association between welfare state regime and population health outcomes, and/or pathways through with the welfare state influences health. Results. Social democratic countries tended to perform best when infant mortality rate (IMR) was the primary outcome of interest, whereas liberal countries performed strongly in relation to self perceived health. The results were mixed regarding welfare state effectiveness in mitigating health inequities, with Christian democratic countries performing as well as social democratic countries. In relation to welfare state pathways, public health spending and medical coverage were associated with positive health indicators. Redistributive impact of the welfare state was also consistently associated with better health outcomes while social security expenditures were not. Discussion/Conclusions. Studies consistently discovered a significant relationship between the welfare state and population health and/or health disparities, lending support to the hypothesis that the welfare state is, indeed, an important non-medical determinant of health. However, it is still fairly unclear which welfare state regime may be most protective for health, as results varied according to the measured health indicator. The research regarding welfare state pathways is particularly undeveloped, and does not provide much insight into the importance of in-kind service provision or cash transfers, or targeted or universal approaches to the welfare state. Suggestions to direct future research are provided.

Subject Area

Public health

Recommended Citation

Perkins-Hausen, Janet, "The welfare state determinants of health: Implications of regimes and pathways" (2009). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1462236.