Comparative Social Models:
Comparing Dimensions of Societal Well-being
Edited by Jens Alber and Neil Gilbert
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
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?