The ‘Chameleon’ Korean welfare regime

Martin Powell, Ki-tae Kim

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18 Citations (Scopus)
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The path-breaking work of Gosta Esping-Andersen (1990), The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism, was based on 18 countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1980, and subsequently has been largely limited to ‘advanced Western’ OECD nations. However, this ignores much work on the East Asian welfare model (EAWM). This article aims to export the ‘welfare modeling business’ to East Asia in general and to Korea in particular. We search for articles in English or Korean which aim to classify Korea. We find 26 studies that are rather different in terms of concepts, measures and analysis. Korea seems to be a ‘chameleon’ changing its appearances to different viewers, with some support for almost every possible classification, apart from the social democratic regime. We find six possible types: liberal; conservative; hybrid; EAWM as the fourth regime; EAWM as a distinct regime; and underdeveloped. In addition, some studies suggest that Korea is moving too fast to enable a clear classification. The modal conclusion is of a fourth regime, but there are some differences between writers and over time, with scholars writing in Korean having a rather different view to scholars writing in English, and with early Korean writers placing Korea in the original triad, but later studies favouring a distinct world. We conclude that it is not clear whether the Western welfare modelling business can be successfully exported to other parts of the world without a change in strategy (concepts and measures).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)626-646
JournalSocial Policy and Administration
Issue number6
Early online date13 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


  • Welfare regime
  • Welfare modelling business
  • Typology
  • East Asian welfare model


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