Review Article: Productive Welfare, the East Asian ‘Model’ and Beyond: Placing
Welfare Types in Greater China into Context
John Hudson*, Stefan Kühner** and Nan Yang***
* Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York
** Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York
*** Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York
This article rounds off the themed section by reviewing broader debates within the
welfare state modelling relevant to Greater China. More specifically, it examines the
now well established literature around the East Asian ‘model’ of welfare and related
debates on the notion of a ‘productive welfare’ model. In so doing, it challenges
simplistic classifications that present the region as a representing a single model of
welfare and, instead, highlights the diversity of welfare provision found within both
Greater China and East Asia more generally. Building on the authors’ earlier published
work comparing East Asian welfare systems with those found across the OECD, it also
challenges claims that the region is home to a distinct ‘productive’ model of welfare.
The article ends by highlighting some key drivers that will shape future debates.
Keywords: Comparative Social Policy, East Asia, Welfare Productivism. Welfare
Esping-Andersen’s (1990) The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism has cast a long
shadow over comparative social policy debates for nearly 25 years, triggering a
‘welfare state modelling’ business that has dominated discussion. Scholars have
argued over how many welfare types exist, where particular countries should be
placed in typologies and whether key classifications omit important dimensions of
welfare (see Abrahamson, 1999; Arts and Gelissen, 2002; and more recently,
Abrahamson, 2011; Aspalter, 2011; Ferragini and Seeleib-Kaiser, 2011; Powell and
Barrientos, 2011, for useful reviews of these debates). As the debate has expanded it
has become more complex, with a wide range of rival typologies created
(Abrahamson, 2011), the most appropriate indicators for analysis of types questioned
(Clasen and Sigel, 2007; Kühner, 2007) and the methods for analysis debated
(Hudson and Kühner, 2010). Some have also questioned utility of typologies even as a
heuristic device (Baldwin, 1996; Kasza, 2002).
Yet, despite the limitations, there has been considerable dynamism in the
debate, particularly with respect to the range of countries covered by popularly cited
typologies. While Esping-Andersen’s original study covered just 18 high income
countries, major contributions to the field have expanded the purview of the modelling
business by adding (amongst others) typologies that encompass Southern European
(Leibfried, 1992; Ferrara, 1996; Bonoli, 1997), East Asian (Holliday, 2000, 2005;
Holliday and Wilding, 2003; Kwon and Holliday, 2007), Easter European (Bohle and
Greskovits, 2007; Fenger, 2007), Latin American (Filgueria, 1998; Rudra 2007;
Martinez Franzoni, 2008) and African (Seekings, 2008) cases. In a recent contribution
of our own (Hudson and Kühner, 2012) we were able to exploit advances in data
collection and methodological technique in order to include 55 cases. Expansion of the
geographical coverage of the modelling business has also fuelled its continued growth,
with new classifications producing new debates about methods, measures and
conceptualisation as well as prompting debates on erroneously classified cases.
In this review article, we focus on one dimension of this debate, which concerns
the classification of East Asian welfare systems. An early criticism of Esping-
Andersen’s work was that he had misunderstood and, consequently, misclassified the
only East Asian case nation included in his original analysis: Japan (see Esping-
Andersen, 1997). Others made broader criticisms of his approach for failing to highlight
distinctive characteristics of welfare in East Asia that add up to form a fourth world of
welfare (for example, Jones, 1993; Goodman et al., 1998). Connected to this, there has
also been a long running debate over the notion of productive welfare, with some
theorists suggesting welfare systems in East Asia can be seen as distinct because of
their productive intent (especially Holliday, 2000, 2005; Holliday and Wilding, 2003).
We might also add that the geographic scope of the East Asian welfare debate has
gradually expanded over time too, from a focus on Japan and South Korea to a
broader focus on the East Asian Tiger Economies (adding Hong Kong, Singapore and
Taiwan to the mix). More recently there has been a growing interest in adding mainland
China to these debates and comparing mainland China with its neighbours.
We begin by reviewing debates on whether an East Asian welfare type exists
before examining in more detail debates around productive welfarism. Here we include
some of our own recent work that has explored the productive welfarism thesis using
data for a wide range of East Asian and non-East Asian cases. Finally, we look to
future developments, highlighting ongoing trends in research and advances in data
An East Asian Welfare Type?
Typologies of East Asian welfare have often been directly influenced by debates in
Western comparative welfare research, either by attempting to fit individual country
cases into mainstream welfare typologies (see, for example, Esping-Andersen, 1997;
Ku, 1997; Kwon, 1997; Lee and Ku, 2007) or by utilising mainstream Western theories
to explore welfare development and change such as the logic of industrialism (Midgley,
1986) or more recently, partisanship (Aspalter, 2001, 2005), arguments about
efficiency/compensation effects of globalisation and new social risks (Gough, 2001). At
the same time, however, there have been numerous parallel attempts to emphasise the
uniqueness of East Asian welfare types and welfare state evolution by pointing towards
cultural-historical and/or political-economic/developmentalist particularities within the
Pointing towards the significance of family and kin networks to provide welfare
support, Chow (1987) was among the earliest scholars to emphasise cultural
differences between Western and Chinese ideas on welfare, tracing the deep cultural-
historical roots of the role of family and kin relationships back to the early Ch’ing
Dynasty where families and the local gentry carried most responsibility for welfare
support (Lin, 1990). The historical-cultural approach gained traction beyond the
Chinese case when Jones (1990) introduced the concept of ‘oikonomic welfare states’
to describe the management of national ‘household economies’ in Hong Kong, Taiwan,
Singapore and South Korea. In her view, culture presented a barrier to Western-style
participatory democracy and was conducive to a top-down policy process in which
states focussed on economic over social development and emphasised the role of the
state as regulator over the role of provider of welfare (Jones, 1993). Jones (1990)
pointed towards a common core of Confucian beliefs, values and priorities, which
emphasise the duties of citizens, rather than their rights and needs, as an explanation
for the modest scale of state welfare transfers and services.
Goodman and Peng (1996: 193-5) came to a similar conclusion, identifying a
common ‘language of Confucianism’ in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan featuring
‘respect for seniors, filial piety, paternal benevolence, the group before the individual,
conflict avoidance, loyalty, dutifulness, lack of complacency, striving for learning,
entrepreneurship and meritocracy’. Furthermore, by pointing towards the colonial or
occupying power and the impact of Japanese-style social welfare in the region,
Goodman and Peng (1996: 195) saw ‘vital institutions, financial, industrial, educational
and political, which still today have much in common with Japanese contemporary
systems’ in Taiwan and South Korea. Thus, they identified common features describing
a ‘Japan-focused East Asian social welfare regime’, most of which echo those
highlighted by Jones (1990, 1993). Indeed, Goodman and Peng (1996) pointed out that
the intraregional emulation of welfare policies functioned as a homogenising factor
across East Asian welfare systems, noting that other East and South East Asian states
such as Thailand and Malaysia closely studied Japanese public programmes,
suggesting that this model could spread even further.1
However, while some, such as Rieger and Leibfried (2003: 243), went so far as
to see Confucian culture as ‘the fundamental cause of an independent [slow and
restrained] path of welfare state evolution’ in East Asia, the explanatory power of
cultural-historical approaches has been heavily critiqued by others (see, for example,
White and Goodman, 1998; Jacobs, 2000; Ramesh and Asher 2000; Peng, 2002;
Chan 2003; Walker and Wong, 2005). In particular, Kwon (1998: 27) found that
cultural-historical approaches, not unlike functionalist/modernisation theories, are
relatively ‘weak in explaining the precise national profiles of social policy and
differences between welfare systems’ and Kasza (2006: 115) likened cultural
explanations to a ‘gross brush’ approach (see also Aspalter, 2005). Whether culture
can be regarded as a cause of, or a factor in defining, differing welfare types has been
debated over the years and while recent contributions have given more credence to the
importance of cultural factors (van Oorschot et al., 2008; Jo, 2011), methodological
issues about how culture can be conceptualised and measured are far from resolved
so few empirical works have included culture indicators in quantitative cross-national
studies for this region (but see Lee and Ku, 2007, below). Confucianism does not say
anything about old age pensions or unemployment insurance per se and the diverse
welfare policies found across space and time in East Asia undermine the Confucian
welfare type thesis. Shinkawa (2004: 66) points out that ‘group-oriented postures […]
are not unique in Confucian societies but common in any traditional society’.
Consequently, Abrahamson (2011) concludes these issues have lead to the notion
being abandoned, while Aspalter (2005, 2008) sees Confucianism, at best, as a
secondary explanatory factor at the macro-level.
An alternative claim for an East Asian welfare type was heavily influenced by
Johnson’s (1982, 1999) notion of the ‘developmental state’ as he introduced a
trichotomy of ideal types that he labelled ‘plan rational’ (Japan), ‘plan ideological
(Stalinist Russia), and ‘regulatory’ (New Deal America) based on these states’
relationship to their domestic economy (Cumings, 1999). Thus, East Asian states were
distinguished from ‘regulatory’ and ‘plan-ideological’ states in viewing their primary
long-term objective as improving national economic development through active and
concerted government intervention. Attempts to establish linkages between the
developmental approach and institutional characteristics of welfare programmes in
newly industrialised countries followed swiftly from Johnson’s contribution (for example,
Dixon and Kim 1985; Dixon 1987; Dixon and Scheurell 1989), but Midgley’s (1986)
contribution stands out as he was the first to identify a ‘reluctant welfarism’ in East Asia
that was specifically subordinated to the goal of fast economic growth and the
developmental paradigm. Midgley’s contribution in turn triggered numerous case
studies of East Asian social policy (for example, Takahashi, 1997; Ku, 1997; Tang,
1998; Kwon, 1999). In a variation, Deyo (1989; 1992) argued that social development
goals in East Asia were closely linked to the predominant model of export-oriented
industrialisation (EOI) requiring policies supporting low wage and production costs,
high productivity and skills, and low levels of labour conflict. More recently, Tang (2000:
137) has labelled state welfare development in Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea
and Taiwan as a ‘production-first’ approach, arguing (together with Midgley, 1995,
1997; Midgley and Tang 2001) that in order to achieve EOI, East Asian governments
used social policies to promote their legitimacy, pacify strategically significant parts of
the labour force and guarantee investment in the education and health of the
workforce. As a consequence, the East Asian welfare type features low public social
expenditure, relative labour market flexibility, and limited universalism and
egalitarianism. Indeed, welfare reforms generally only occurred when the ruling parties
faced real political challenges, such as a financial crisis. While statutory social
assistance programs were established, the scope of these programs remained small
and the level of benefits low compared to other industrialised countries. Kwon (2005a,
b) adds that social policies were designed mainly to target politically pivotal groups in
the East Asian type, meaning stratification effects are commonly high and reinforce
In one the few empirical studies to test the developmental state thesis using
cross national data, Lee and Ku (2007) performed cluster and factor analysis on data
for 19 high income economies including Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. While their
analysis provided a good degree of support for placing Korea and Taiwan in a
distinctive ideal type with developmental characteristics, the evidence was less
compelling for Japan which had many features of Esping-Andersen’s conservative
types. Similar to the cultural-historical approach, this provides an indication that the
developmental state thesis, although certainly useful as an analytical tool, may struggle
to account for differences at the detailed programme level across East Asia. Moreover,
Japan’s conflicting classification may reflect its earlier industrialisation and hint at an
anachronistic weakness in applying the developmental label to cases with OECD or
near OECD levels of economic output.
East Asia and the Productive Welfare Debate
The core argument that East Asian states emphasise economic over social policy also
appears in a more nuanced fashion in Holliday’s work (Holliday 2000, 2005; Holliday
and Wilding 2003; Kwon and Holliday 2007); it also offers the most explicit challenge to
Esping-Andersen’s three way classification of welfare types. On the basis of case
studies of five East Asian states - Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and
Taiwan - Holliday argues it is ‘impossible to place [them] in Esping-Andersen’s
framework’ (Holliday, 2000: 711). Instead, he suggests there is a fourth welfare regime
found in the region that he dubs the ‘productivist’ world of welfare capitalism (PWC),
differing from those outlined by Esping-Andersen because it subordinates social policy
to economic policy and so ‘productivist’ economic goals drive social policy (Kim, 2008).
By adding this fourth regime, Holliday (2000: 709) distinguishes ‘a liberal world
prioritizing the market, a conservative world defined by status, a social democratic
world focused on welfare, and a productivity world premised on growth’.
Holliday (2000) identifies three clusters within productivist capitalism: a
facilitative, developmental-universalist, developmental-particularist sub-type (see Table
1). The facilitative type is most similar to Esping-Andersen’s (1990) liberal type, except
its social policy is more clearly subordinated to economic growth. As a result, facilitative
types feature minimal social rights, limited stratification effects and the market is
prioritised. In the developmental-universalist states, social rights are extended to
productive elements of the population only. While the state plays an important role in
economic policy, market and families are supported with some universal programmes.
The developmental-particularist state is also characterised by minimal social rights.
Here, welfare policy mainly aims to provide for the productive elements in society
through individual mandatory programmes, while state mainly directs social welfare
activities of families. Holliday (2000) concludes that Japan, South Korea and Taiwan
are best described as developmental-universalist types, whereas Hong Kong mainly
features facilitative and Singapore developmental-particularist characteristics.
<< Insert table 1 here >>
The frameworks of Esping-Andersen and Holliday have been adapted and
extended by Gough et al. (Gough 2004; Wood and Gough 2006; Gough and McGregor
2007). Here the term ‘regime’ is redefined as at the most ‘general level [as] an
institutional matrix of market, state and family forms, which generates welfare
outcomes’ (Gough, 2004: 23) with: a ‘welfare state regime type’ comprised of states
where ‘people can reasonably expect to meet (to a varying extent) their security needs
via participation in labour markets, financial markets and the finance and provisioning
role of a ‘welfare state’; an ‘informal security regime’ where ‘people rely heavily upon
community and family relationships to meet their security needs, to greatly varying
degrees’; and an ‘insecurity regime’ where ‘a set of conditions which generate gross
insecurity and block the emergence of stable informal mechanisms to mitigate’ (Gough
et al., 2004: 33-34). East Asian states conceptually cluster in the ‘informal security
regime’ as minimal social rights, social investment and the productive elements of
welfare policy are emphasised (Gough, 2004). Cluster analyses undertaken by Gough
and colleagues largely confirm this classification, with East Asian cases classified as
either ‘more effective’ (Wood and Gough, 2006) or ‘successful’ (Abu Shark and Gough,
2010) informal welfare types, separating them from South East Asian (‘less effective-
failing informal welfare states’) and other middle/high income Latin American and
Eastern European countries (‘potential-proto welfare state regimes’).
There are, then, clear commonalities between the cultural-historical, political-
economic/developmental and productivist/informal approaches to clustering East Asian
welfare types. Scholars have continued to question whether it is analytically useful to
talk about an homogenous East Asian welfare type that glosses over differences
between cases (Kwon, 1998, 2005b; White and Goodman, 1998). Maybe more
importantly, while a majority has tended to hold on to the PWC thesis judging welfare
reforms as merely programmatic/incremental (Holliday, 2005; Kwon and Holliday,
2007; Aspalter, 2011), a growing literature suggests a departure from PWC in the wake
of democratisation in some territories and the impact of economic crises in East Asia
since 1997. Ramesh (2003) and Ku (2003) were among the first to find a divergence in
welfare choices in these changing contexts, but this observation has generally become
more salient in recent years (see also Choi, 2012). For instance, Kim (2008) argues
that welfare systems in Korea and Taiwan have become more redistributive over the
last decade. While the Central Provident Fund (CPF) remains core to welfare in
Singapore, public assistance has played a more crucial role in in Japan and Hong
Kong (Wilding, 2008). In China, the situation is even more complex where the welfare
system combines public funds, social insurances, and public assistances, which
increasingly have been extended beyond the urban citizenry (Kasza, 2011; Ngok, 2013
forthcoming) and vary by province. Others have argued that since the mid-1980s
various non-state actors such as civil movements and labour unions have played an
increasingly important role in shaping and reforming welfare programmes in East Asia
(Wong, 2004; Peng, 2005), which goes counter to the argument that welfare
programmes in East Asia have mainly been introduced for specific economic and
political legitimisation purposes rather than social needs (Holliday and Wilding, 2003).
Finally, even if ‘productivism’ should prevail as the guiding principle of the East
Asian welfare type, there remains an important question how unique this focus of policy
really is. Bonoli and Shinkawa (2005: 21) rightly point out that ‘welfare states
everywhere help improve productivity and contribute to economic growth by facilitating
social cohesion and peaceful class relationships. In that sense, all welfare states are
productivist’. We cannot assume, therefore, that productive welfarism is unique to East
Asia (Kim, 2008). Indeed, there is a growing body of thought that suggests the
productive dimensions of welfare are becoming increasingly central to social policy
regimes across the OECD (Cerny and Evans, 1999; Jessop, 1999, 2000; Castells and
Himanen, 2002; and more recently, Vandenbrouke et al., 2011; Morel et al., 2012). A
true understanding of how far, if at all, productive welfarism is unique to some or all of
the East Asian welfare regimes can only come, therefore, through systematic
comparison of East Asian cases with those countries that form the core of the worlds of
Productive Welfare Beyond East Asia
Taking these issues as a starting point, our own contribution to this debate has utilised
fuzzy set ideal type analysis in order to facilitate comparison of productive welfare
cross-nationally. One of the weaknesses in the productive welfare debate has been
that few studies offer a systematic comparison of a broad range of cases, many
offering case studies of a small number of cases within East Asia. To rectify this we
developed a framework for assessing the balance between productive and protective
welfare that could be used to compare a broad range of cases and, in so doing,
determine whether (i) East Asian welfare systems placed an emphasis on productive
rather than protective welfare and (ii) whether cases from outside of the region placed
an emphasis on protective rather than productive welfare. We began by examining
OECD member states and so including only Japan and South Korea from East Asia
(Hudson and Kühner, 2009) but then expanded our study to include five additional East
Asian cases (Hudson and Kühner, 2011) and then a further 32 cases from across the
globe (Hudson and Kühner, 2012). In each instance a central pillar of our work was the
use of fuzzy set ideal type analysis (see Ragin, 2000, 2008).
Our initial study was based on the analysis of OECD indicators and so
restricted to an analysis of 23 OECD nations (Hudson and Kühner, 2009). The data we
examined presented a direct challenge to Holliday’s (2000) productive welfare thesis.
Firstly, neither of the two East Asian cases included appeared to have a dominant
focus on productive welfare. Secondly, and as importantly, the data also suggested
that two cases from outside of East Asia, the USA and New Zealand, were the best
exemplars of a dominant focus on productive welfare. Added to this, our data also
suggested that both Korea and Japan had shifted away from productive strategies
over the course of the 1990s and early 2000s. Of course, in only including Japan and
South Korea, this initial analysis missed many of the cases central to the East Asian
welfare regimes debate. To address this, in a follow up study (Hudson and Kühner,
2011) we developed an approach for combining OECD data with corresponding
measures from other databases compiled by the ADB, ILO and by other researchers.
This allowed us to add a further five East Asian cases to our analysis: mainland China,
Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. We should not underplay the way data
limitations restricted our analysis in this follow up study, but it nonetheless facilitated a
broad brush approach that allowed us to plot membership of seven East Asian cases
into a range of productive and protective welfare types. Again a diversity of
approaches was found in the region. So, our earlier classifications of Japan and South
Korea were confirmed. Mainland China and Taiwan were found to place more
emphasis on protective rather than productive welfare, while Hong Kong shared many
key features with Korea in terms of balancing productive and protective elements.
Malaysia and Singapore had a clearer focus on productive elements though still less
so than the USA or New Zealand. So, even expanding our sample left us with findings
contrary to the suggestion that East Asian welfare regimes favour productive, over
protective, social policies.
That said, as we flag above, the productive welfarism debate itself has always
been sensitive to differences in the region and it is not insignificant that Singapore
emerged from our analysis as the most clearly productive welfare model in East Asia
for this matches with Holliday’s (2005: 152) suggestion that it is ‘perhaps the best fit
with the productivist type’. Our approach deliberately used fuzzy set methods (Ragin,
2000, 2008) that limit the impact of strong outlier values on the final classification of
cases, focused on policy inputs rather than policy outcomes, and, for the most part, on
the balance of activities rather than their extent, all of which impacts on our findings. In
short, while our analyses have questioned key aspects of the productive welfarism
thesis, we would by no means suggest they are the final word. Indeed, given that the
picture is a very dynamic one in terms of policies themselves with some key cases in
the region having witnessed considerable social policy change in recent years, no
conclusions can be seen as final here.
We conclude our review with a nod towards the future. Predicting what might come
next is a challenging and somewhat risky venture, but we feel we are on safe ground in
suggesting that more cross-national research will include cases from both Greater
China specifically and East Asia more generally in the future. Partly this is because the
rapid economic and social development of key cases here makes them highly useful
comparators for OECD cases. When Esping-Andersen published The Three Worlds of
Welfare Capitalism in 1990 Japan was the sole East Asian case included because it
was the arguably the only territory in the region with a level of economic and social
policy development similar enough to the core European and North American cases to
warrant inclusion. South Korea joined the OECD as recently as 1996 but is now
regularly included in cross-national comparisons of welfare. Hong Kong, Singapore and
Taiwan share much in common with South Korea in terms of economic development
and the extensity (if not type and generosity) of social policy frameworks. Arguably the
same might be said of some parts of mainland China too. Though it still remains
relatively uncommon to see cases beyond South Korea and Japan included in large
cross-national studies at present, we feel such developments mean more comparative
studies are likely to include these cases in their sample in the future. Indeed, as a case
in point, the most recent version of the OECD’s Programme for International Student
Assessment (OECD, 2010) included Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore, Taiwan and, in
mainland China, a city level survey of Shanghai.
Added to this, and a further factor likely to fuel the inclusion of a wider range of
East Asian cases in comparative studies, there has been a significant growth in social
policy as an academic discipline within East Asia. Partly this is in response to social
issues rising up the political agenda in the region but it also reflects an expansion of
social policy scholarship driven by intellectual agendas too. The rapid growth of the
East Asian Social Policy Research Network (EASP) that, in less than a decade, has
become a key player in the international social policy academic community is a case in
point. As a pan regional body it naturally facilities comparative analyses but it is also
worth noting that its inception owes much to what might be deemed an outcome
measure of the productive model of welfare: the comparatively high number of East
Asian students studying overseas,2 for it was initially established by East Asian doctoral
students studying social policy in the UK. The outward looking nature of this cadre of
scholars permeates EASP conferences and is evident in the high number of papers
that look to compare East Asian cases with European/North American cases and/or
that draw on frameworks that facilitate such comparisons.
Data limitations have prevented the inclusion of East Asian cases in many
comparative studies to date, but increasingly detailed data sets are being developed
that should help to bridge this gap. Scholars attached to EASP have helped establish
the East Asian Data Project3 that aims to facilitate the collection and sharing of data
about social policy in the region. More formally, the Asian Development Bank produces
an increasingly sophisticated Social Protection Index that includes key indicators on
social protection spending and coverage by programme type, gender and poor/non-
poor beneficiaries (Baulch et al., 2008; ADB, 2011). Although there is no source yet
that can match the gold standard of the OECD’s databases, as we note above the
OECD’s PISA study now includes a wide range of cases from East Asian and Greater
China and Asia/Pacific versions of a number of OECD’s key publications have been
produced in recent years including Health at a Glance (OECD, 2012), Pensions at a
Glance (OECD, 2011b) and Society at a Glance (OECD, 2011c). Weighing against this
we should note that in some databases, particularly IMF and World Bank sources,
political factors restrict access to potentially very useful data on Taiwan.
Finally, in this short review article we have focused our attention on the main
contours of the debate so far and this has meant we have emphasised issues around
the classification of welfare types. Though this has arguably been the core focus of the
welfare modelling business generally, we should note that Esping-Andersen (1990)
deliberately used the term welfare regime rather than welfare state or welfare type in
order to flag that social policy frameworks are shaped by a broad set of historical,
political and institutional legacies. Such issues have, of course, featured in key
contributions to the debate about East Asian welfare systems (for example, Peng,
2004; Haggard and Kaufman, 2008; Peng and Wong, 2008) and welfare research (for
example, Ku and Finer, 2007; Choi 2012) but there is an enormous programme of work
here and as more East Asian cases are included in cross-national comparisons of
welfare, questions about the pathways to welfare state development and the influence
of different institutional frameworks and historical legacies on social policy will become
an increasingly significant part of research agendas. Indeed, this seems likely to be
particularly true in Greater China where a diverse set of institutional frameworks and
historical legacies are present within a set of closely connected territories that share
many common cultural legacies. Here too we might also see this as one of the factors
that will limit comparisons: much of the welfare regime debate rests on the analysis of
cases that share key characteristics in terms of their social, political and economic
institutions. While comparisons that look to classify welfare types (as in the productive
welfare debate) or compare welfare outcomes (as in PISA) can sidestep such
differences, this option is not open for those looking to analyse welfare regimes or the
politics of welfare state development. Indeed, as quantitative data and case study
evidence on cases across East Asia becomes more sophisticated, economic
development matches OECD levels and social policy frameworks mature, comparative
scholars will increasingly face a choice between taking the easy option of limiting
samples to the most clearly similar cases and the hard choice of widening their sample
but developing new conceptual frameworks or explanatory theories to account for their
1 British colonialism is also sometimes seen as an influence in some cases,
particularly in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore (see Caraher, 2013).
2 OECD’s Education at a Glance (OECD, 2011a) reports that, within the
OECD, students from Korea account for a larger percentage of overseas enrollments at
universities than any other member state (4.8 per cent of international student
enrolments), despite its relatively modest total population. Meanwhile, in terms of
overseas enrolments in the OECD by students from non-OECD countries, mainland
China accounts for by far the largest proportion (18.2 per cent) with a further 1.3 per
cent from Hong Kong. Students from the UK accounted for only around 1 per cent of
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