Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Calnitsky, David


This master’s thesis investigates the mechanisms leading to the development of robust and generous welfare states, focusing on the ongoing debate around targeting versus universalism in welfare state studies. By leveraging multiple welfare state datasets and expanding the scope of welfare outcomes using cross-national time-series analyses, it uncovers the pivotal role that measurement plays in understanding universalism's effects. This research unveils substantial variations in outcomes based on the universalism measures used, thus highlighting how our perception of the welfare state is deeply entwined with our methodological choices. The findings of this study not only carve new paths in the field of comparative welfare state literature but also set the stage for future research agendas. This work is a critical step towards more fully comprehending the intricacies of the welfare state debate, alongside the importance of conceptual precision and measurement alignment in welfare state studies.

Summary for Lay Audience

The following thesis grapples with a significant social policy debate: how can we most effectively administer social benefits to reduce poverty and inequality? This debate oscillates between two approaches: (1) targeting—giving aid specifically to the poor, and (2) universalism—dispersing benefits to everyone regardless of income level. Yet, 'universalism' lacks a consistent definition, making it difficult to measure and compare its outcomes. My thesis aims to clarify this targeting-universalism debate by examining how different definitions of universalism affect the outcomes of welfare states, such as generosity, poverty, and inequality levels. I do this using data from 22 developed countries to analyze how changes in defining and measuring universalism influence these outcomes. This work has two key implications. Firstly, it can help policymakers create more effective strategies to tackle poverty and inequality. Often, studies have used a single measure of universalism, which may not capture its full impact. By examining multiple measures, my research project provides a more comprehensive understanding of universalism's effects, and thereby shedding light on the importance of methodological consistency in social policy research. Secondly, the debate between targeted and universal programs carries normative implications. It relates not only to effective policy design but also to the kind of society we want to live in. Do we aim for an inclusive society that treats everyone equally, or do we prioritize aid for those most in need? Furthermore, my research addresses methodological issues in the existing literature, such as differing conceptualizations of universalism and the use of different measures to compare targeting and universalism's effects. In summary, my thesis is a critical contribution to social policy debates, as it not only deepens our understanding of how welfare states can combat poverty and inequality, but also prompts us to reflect on the kind of society we want to create.