Comparative Social Models:
Comparing Dimensions of Societal Well-being

Edited by Jens Alber and Neil Gilbert

Book Prospectus

With the advent of the European Union, policy makers and public officials have struggled to articulate the essential framework of economic, social and political values that unites the member states -- the "European Social Model." A formal definition of this model is offered in the Presidency Conclusions of the Nice European Council meeting of 2000, which notes:

The European social model, characterized in particular by systems that offer a high level of social protection, by the importance of the social dialogue and by services of general interest covering activities vital for social cohesion, is today based, beyond the diversity of the Member States’ social systems, on a common core of values. (European Council, 2000b)

Beyond social protection, social dialogue, and services that promote social cohesion, the common core of values includes: "pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men" (Official Journal of the European Union, 2004). In addition, the Treaty establishing the European Community identifies five common elements: a high level of employment, sustainable and non-inflationary growth, economic competitiveness, an elevated quality of life, and a high level of the quality of the environment (Official Journal of the European Union, 2003). These formulations suggest that the term "European social model" embraces several dimensions of social, economic and political life.

The European social model is a construct that not only expresses common aspirations of the member states, but is frequently employed to distinguish a European type of society from the type of society in the United States (see Albert, 1992). A competitive edge is implicitly voiced in the 2000 Lisbon European Council goal for the European Union "to become the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion" (European Council, 2000a). Although "most" signifies more than everywhere else in the world, the United States is the immediate reference against which the European model tends to be judged. The European Council’s statements in Lisbon, along with other official pronouncements, reflect the objective to create a system that enjoys the thriving market economy of the United States enhanced by additional dimensions of societal well-being. In essence, as Anthony Giddens (2005) explains, the European social model aims to combine economic dynamism with social justice.

To what extent do normative assessments of the European and American social models capture empirical truths? How accurate are the benefits and deficiencies attributed to these models? Addressing these questions, European and American Social Models describes and empirically clarifies the essential points of convergence and divergence between Europe and the United States as well as highlighting the differences among European states. This volume examines the commonalities and variations, along with the strengths and weaknesses of these models by focusing on how they perform on eight dimensions of quality of life: employment, equality/mobility, educational opportunity, integration of immigrants, democratic functioning, political participation, right to welfare, and levels of social spending. Analyzed from the perspectives of European and U.S. scholars in the disciplines of economics, political science, public policy, social welfare, and sociology, these dimensions of the European and U.S. Social models are rigorously investigated addressing issues such as:

  • Where and why is there an employment gap between Europe and the USA? How do employment rates in low-skill and high-skill sectors differ? What are the implications of the higher incarceration rates in the U.S.? How do employment policies differ?

  • Where is the land of opportunity? How widespread and embedded is deprivation? How frequent is social mobility and how far is the social distance travelled by people from deprived backgrounds?

  • How are educational opportunity and cognitive inequality distributed in European countries and the U.S.? How are these impacted by educational policies? What is the comparative quality of high/tertiary education and of minimum education?

  • To what extent are immigrants socially integrated in Europe and the U.S.? What accounts for the degree of citizens’ reactions in various countries? How do policies toward immigrants differ in US and Europe?

  • How do we measure the functioning/performance of democracy? By which indicators do some countries stand out as better-functioning democracies than others?

  • To what extent is political participation socially skewed or polarised? Do rates of political participation differ in Europe and the U.S.?

  • To what extent do concepts of citizenship involve a right to welfare? What social programs exist for the poor? To what extent are they conditioned on work efforts? How have respective policies changed in recent times?

  • How do US and European national budgets vary in terms of social expenditure and of expenditure for internal and external security? To what extent are the dynamics of public expenditure different? Do US-European differences vanish if we move from gross to net social spending?


Jens Alber, Professor,Social Science Research Center, Berlin

Neil Gilbert, Chernin Professor of Social Welfare, University of California, Berkeley

(in alphabetical order)

Jens Alber, Professor,Social Science Research Center, Berlin

Jutta Allmendinger, Professor, President Social Science Research Center, Berlin

Rebecca Blank, Dean, Gerald Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan and President of the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management

Richard Burkhauser, Sarah Gibson Blanding Professor of Policy Analysis and Professor of Economics, Cornell University

Francis G. Castles, Professor of Political Science, Australian National University Kenneth A. Couch, Professor of Economics, University of Connecticut

Richard B. Freeman, Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University and Director of the Labor Studies Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research

Markus Gangl, Professor of Sociology, University of Mannheim

Neil Gilbert, Chernin Professor of Social Welfare, University of California, Berkeley

Nadia Granato, Research Fellow, Institute for Employment Research, Nuremberg

Anton Hemerijck, Professor in Comparative European Policy, Erasmus University and Director, Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy, the Hague

Charles Hirschman, Professor of Sociology, University of Washington

Frank Kalter, Professor of Sociology, University of Leipzig

Ulrich Kohler, Research Fellow, Social Science Center Berlin

Patricia Maloney, Research Fellow, Department of Sociology, Yale University

Karl Ulrich Mayer, Professor of Sociology, Yale University

Michael McDonald, Professor of Government and Politics, George Mason University and Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution

Anthony Daniel Perez, Research Fellow, University of Washington

Stein Ringen, Professor of Social Policy, Oxford University

John Samples, Director, Center for Representative Government, Cato Institute and adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University

Chiara Saraceno, Professor of Sociology, University of Turin and Social Science Center Berlin