At the Eve of Convergence? Transformations of Social Service Provision in Denmark, Germany, and the United States

Lars Skov Henriksen, Steven Rathgeb Smith, Annette Zimmer

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

83 Citations (Scopus)


Increasing societal heterogeneity, changing demographics, and increasing public debt and fiscal constraints have recently challenged traditional “regime” approaches to welfare state development. Some scholars argue, against this background, that welfare states might plausibly move out of their “regime container” by opting in favor of similar solutions and responses. This potential trend toward “convergence” might, furthermore, be facilitated by the widespread use of new public management ideas and techniques for “reinventing government” by adopting market solutions to public problems. This article investigates whether such trends of convergence can be identified by comparing three different countries each traditionally looked upon as belonging to different welfare state regimes: Denmark, Germany, and the United States. More specifically the article looks at one important segment of welfare state activity, namely social services and related health care. To further focus the analysis, special attention is devoted to the changing role played by the third sector in delivering services. The research design, thus, differs from most comparative welfare state research. Instead of analyzing a broad set of quantitative indicators in a large number of countries, it is scrutinized how some of the same problem pressures and policy ideas are being interpreted and implemented in a small number of countries within one policy area. The analysis reveals that trends of convergence—conceptualized along four dimensions: ideas, regulation, mix of providers, and revenue mix—can be identified across the three cases, though this does not mean that the market share of nonprofit providers becomes the same. The study also reveals that fundamental aspects of state–nonprofit relations persist despite trends of convergence.
Original languageEnglish
JournalVOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)458-501
Number of pages43
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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