More income-equality, no more equality in quality of life

by Ruut Veenhoven
Paper presented at the international sociological conference 'Towards the Good Society. Applying the Social Sciences' June 25 - 26, 1992 Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Social-equality is highly valued in present day Western society and a major goal of social policy. It is generally agreed that welfare provision by the state is a suitable mean to that goal and all Western nations are in fact welfare-states. Yet opinions differ on the level of state-welfare-effort required, in particualr whether an extended welfare-state breeds a more equal society than a modest one. This difference figures prominently in the current discussion on slimming the welfare-state.
This paper examines whether high state-welfare-effort is indeed accompanied by greater social-equality. It compares 23 first world countries on (change in) social-security-expenditures and (change in) social-inequality. Social-inequality is measured in two ways:
    Traditionally social-inequality is measured as difference command over scarce resources, typically socio-economic resources such as income, wealth and social prestige. Comparison of income-inequality between the countries shows less inequality in the most extended welfare-states.
    Rather than as differences in such pre-conditions for a good life, social-inequality can be conceived as the difference in actually 'realized' quality-of-life and measured by dispersions in satisfaction with life (as observed in survey-data) and by dispersion in lenght-of-life (as observed in mortality statistics). These latter two measures are not related to state-welfare-effort: neither in a cross-sectional analysis nor in a longitudinal one appear.
It is concluded that high state-welfare does involve more money-leveling but does not equalize chances for a good life.

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