Paper last presented at the Annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, August 28th-31st, 2008, Boston, USA
Over the last decade, the main puzzle in the analysis of continental European welfare states has shifted from the explanation of stability to the explanation of change. Rather than being “frozen landscapes”, most continental welfare states have indeed undergone far-reaching retrenchment and restructuring, even in the field of pensions, which supposedly is the most „path dependent“ welfare policy. Moreover, even left-wing political parties and even trade unions have played a major role in cutting back existing pension rights in several countries. How can we explain the contents and coalitional dynamics of these reforms?
This contribution reviews four existing hypotheses for the explanation of the recent welfare reforms, arguing that all of them leave major questions unanswered. It then proposes a fifth hypothesis, arguing that we need to link the analysis of policy-making by parties and unions with an analysis of the changing socio-structural constituencies these actors represent. When looking empirically at the profile and preferences of the electorate and membership of parties and trade unions, it can be shown that the recent reforms cater to new constituencies, rather than the blue-collar workers, who were the core beneficiaries of the industrial welfare state. However, since the left-wing electorate has become very heterogeneous, the left is increasingly divided in policy-reforms.
Empirically, socio-structural transformations and the preference profiles of constituencies in Switzerland, Germany and France are analyzed by means of survey data. In a second step, an analysis of collective actor positions in the reform space shows how these micro-level transformations affect the coalitional dynamics in three major pension reform processes in the early 2000s. Methodologically, I use factor analysis to analyze the dimensionality of the policy space, and the configuration of actors in this space.