The Missing Main Effect of Welfare State Regimes: A Comment

David L. Weakliem

Sociological Science, February 17, 2016
DOI 10.15195/v3.a6


This article discusses Nate Breznau’s critique of Brooks and Manza’s “Social Policy Responsiveness in Developed Democracies.” Brooks and Manza found that public opinion influenced welfare state spending, but Breznau argued that this conclusion was an artifact of their model, which included an interaction between opinion and welfare state type but omitted the main effect of welfare state type. Breznau is correct in saying that interactions should not be used without including the main effect, except in rare circumstances which do not apply in this case. However, the classification of welfare state type is made partly on the basis of the dependent variable, welfare spending, so it should not be used as an independent variable. There is, however, a case for including a variable for the type of legal system (common law or civil law), which is correlated with welfare state type. The estimates from a regression including both main and interaction effects support Brooks’s and Manza’s original conclusions about the effect of public opinion. The paper concludes by discussing the strength of the evidence provided by the data.

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David L. Weakliem: Department of Sociology, University of Connecticut  Email:

  • Citation: David L. Weakliem. 2016. “The Missing Main Effect of Welfare State Regimes: A Comment”. Sociological Science 3: 109-115
  • Received: November 10, 2015
  • Accepted: December 2, 2015.
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Stephen Morgan
  • DOI: 10.15195/v3.a6

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2 Reactions to The Missing Main Effect of Welfare State Regimes: A Comment

  1. Nate Breznau February 24, 2016 at 7:00 am #

    Two points I want to make in response:

    (1) Brooks and Manza in their original paper explicitly made the argument about Japan being liberal due to its social spending levels. Thus, Weakliem makes a key point about the independent variable of regime being selected on the dependent variable of social spending. I have argued from a more general perspective in my replication of Brooks and Manza. I consider post-war, cultural and business ties closely linking Japan to Britain and especially the United States. This institutional or normative argument about Japan predates the measures of social spending and links it more to earlier stages of welfare state formation. Thus, I have selected japan because of its ties with the English-speaking family of nations, as opposed to the European one, a historical institutional argument. This is not committing the same logical error as Brooks and Manza.

    (2) My study was a replication of Brooks and Manza. Weakliem’s study is a replication of my work. Except it is not exactly. He does not use robust clustered standard errors in the results he presents. He offers these robust standard errors in his footnote 2. But what he does not mention is that these push the p values above 0.05, which was Brooks and Manza’s originally utilized cut-off. Although in fairness p is below 0.10 for both of his coefficients providing what we could call a weaker version of support. Nonetheless, using Brooks and Manza’s own criteria he has still not provided convincing evidence of their claims. (Problems with the robust clustering approach aside).

    • David Weakliem February 28, 2016 at 11:22 am #

      I agree with Nate Breznau’s general conclusion that there is not convincing evidence that public opinion makes a difference. Using the common law vs. civil law classification, there’s some evidence, but it’s still in the range in which there’s room for reasonable doubt. As Breznau points out, there is a historical argument for classifying Japan with the Anglo-American nations, and with that classification there’s no evidence. I don’t find it convincing–the American occupation was brief and many distinctive features of Japanese economy and society remained. However, that’s just my impression–I have no special knowledge of Japanese history.

      My fundamental objection is not to Breznau’s analysis, which made a valid and important point. It’s to the way that sociologists (including me) usually approach this kind of data. We us the model of a study in which you give the null hypothesis “the benefit of the doubt.” That model is appropriate to an experiment where you can select the design and sample size to give good power to test the hypothesis. But with cross-national studies, we have to use whatever data are available, and often there’s very little power. What we should do is to look outside the study and draw on whatever evidence is relevant. In this case, there is a lot of evidence that public opinion makes a difference to government policy in the United States and several other countries. Why should social welfare spending be an exception? (That’s not a rhetorical question–maybe there is some reason to think it would be, but I haven’t heard one).

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