1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development (2000 - 2009)

Social Policy in Late Industrializers: The Nordic Experience

  • Project from: 2002 to 2004


Social Policy in a Development Context is a project exploring social policy that is developmental, democratic and socially inclusive. This project has evolved into nine separate but interrelated projects (see Social Policy in a Development Context link, under "Related Information"). A policy framework that is both developmental and socially inclusive is not merely a theoretical possibility—it has been accomplished, with varying degrees of success, historically. This is the focus of the five region-centred comparative projects, which delve into historical trajectories of social policy and "late development" in diverse regional settings.

This project, within Social Policy in a Development Context, externally co-ordinated by Joakim Palme and Olli Kangas, examines social policy in the Nordic countries. By and large, the welfare states in the Nordic region have been of an inclusive nature, based on productivism, universal social investment and democratic governance. They managed to maintain an inclusive welfare state in the midst of post-Keynesian reform and are now faced with new challenges brought about by globalization. One of the important features in the Nordic welfare states, often ignored, is their developmental credentials. Nordic countries introduced social policies at a relatively early stage in relation to their economic development. Did social policy facilitate economic development? If so, what lessons can be elicited for developing countries? This project also pays attention to the historical role played by universal social policies to contribute to common identities and nation building. Further, it explores the new challenges to the welfare state posed by an ageing population and declining fertility rates.

Specific research questions are addressed within the following six topics:
  • the origins and development of social protection;
  • social policy institutions and their outcomes;
  • empowering social policy;
  • education, equity and growth;
  • health, equity and growth;
  • institutions, inequality and development
A team of scholars with proven expertise on the region are conducting the research. Their draft reports were discussed at a workshop in Stockholm on April 4-5 2003, which was attended by members of the research team as well as representatives from UNRISD and Sida.

Papers will be finalized, based on comments received from members of the research team and during the workshop. Some of the research findings will be published as UNRISD Programme Papers and form the basis of an edited volume. A policy brief summarizing the principal research findings of the project will also be prepared.