Thematisches Piktogramm

Welfare Regimes

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In studying the configuration of welfare institutions and outcomes in Latin America, the welfare regime approach has proved more effective than the welfare state focus of European social policy. According to Esping-Andersen (1990, 1999), welfare regimes are understood as the articulation of welfare programs and institutions - including the state, markets, and households - insuring households against social risks, and therefore promoting and protecting welfare. Operationalizing welfare regimes, Gough (2004) distinguishes three main components: the welfare mix, welfare outcomes, and stratification effects. The welfare mix describes the articulation of state, markets, households and international actors in a particular country. Welfare outcomes describe the effectiveness of these institutions in protecting populations against social risks. In a high income context, Esping-Andersen emphasizes decommodification, understood as the extent to which household welfare is independent of what they can sell in the market, and defamilialism, understood as the extent to which welfare outcomes are independent of people’s position within households. Stratification effects represent the way in which welfare institutions generate and reinforce the social structure.

An emerging literature demonstrates that the welfare regime approach can be usefully applied to Latin America. Filgueira (1998, 2005) concludes that Latin American countries can be classified into three groups. Countries like Uruguay and Argentina fit into a group with stratified, but universalistic, social institutions. What distinguishes them is their capacity to implement social policies which cover a majority of the population, as opposed to specific classes. A second group of countries have dual regimes, in which social security institutions only reach workers in formal employment. Brazil and Mexico are included in this group. A third group of countries has highly exclusionary welfare institutions serving primarily predatory elites. Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Bolivia fit into this group.

Martinez Franzoni (2008) provides a detailed empirical analysis relying on multiple indicators of commodification, decommodification and defamilialism. She finds three main clusters, a state-targeted group of countries (including Argentina and Chile), a state-stratified group (including Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama and Uruguay), and an informal-familialist regime (which includes the remaining countries).

Barrientos (2004) focuses on characterizing changes in the welfare mix in the region as a whole. Prior to the 1980s, Latin America’s welfare mix is characterized as conservative / informal. Social policy relied on stratified social insurance and employment protection supporting families through a male breadwinner, as in Southern European conservative welfare regimes. But in Latin America, these forms of protection applied to workers in formal employment only, and excluded workers in informal employment who relied mainly on their households and the labor market as the main sources of protection against contingencies, resembling liberal welfare regimes.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, fundamental welfare and labor market reform recomposed the welfare mix, de facto dismantling employment protection and replacing social insurance with individual saving plans offered by private providers. As the conservative components of social policy fell away, the emerging pattern was characterized as liberal / informal (Barrientos, 2004). Furthermore, the rapid emergence of social assistance in the shape of large scale antipoverty programs at the turn of the century led to a further change in the Latin American welfare regime. The dual nature of welfare support, social insurance for formal sector workers and social assistance for informal workers and low income households led to a hyphenation of the welfare regime as liberal-informal (Barrientos, 2009). Research on welfare regimes in developed countries finds strong path dependence. In Latin America, as in other developing countries, researchers find significant change over time. The process of democratization in the region, with left coalitions rising to power in many countries, is an important factor behind the expansion of social assistance.

Armando Barrientos

Please cite as:
Barrientos, Armando. 2012. “Welfare Regimes.” InterAmerican Wiki: Terms - Concepts - Critical Perspectives.


Barrientos, A. 2004. "Latin America: towards a liberal-informal welfare regime." In I. Gough, G. Wood, A. Barrientos, P. Bevan, P. David & G. Room (Eds.), Insecurity and welfare regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America (pp. 121-168). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Barrientos, A. 2009. 'Labour markets and the (hyphenated) welfare regime in Latin America'. Economy and Society, 38 (1), 87-108.

Esping-Andersen, G. 1990. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Esping-Andersen, G. 1999. Social Foundations of Postindustrial Economies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Filgueira, F. 1998. "El nuevo modelo de prestaciones sociales en América Latina: residualismo y ciudadanía estratificada." In B. Roberts (Ed.), Ciudadanía y Polìtica Social (pp. 71-116). San José: FLACSO.

Filgueira, F. 2005. Welfare and democracy in Latin America: The development, crises and aftermath of Universal, dual and exclusionary social states. Geneva: UNRISD.

Gough, I. 2004. "Welfare regimes in development contexts: a global and regional analysis." In I. Gough & G. Wood (Eds.), Insecurity and welfare regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America. London: Cambridge University Press.

Martinez Franzoni, J. 2008. 'Welfare regimes in Latin America: Capturing constellations of markets, families, and policies'. Latin American Politics and Society, 50 (2), 67-100.

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