The Norwegian welfare state

Magrete Søvik


Disposition of the lecture


-         A brief historical sketch (public welfare before the Second World War)


-         The welfare state after 1945

  1. Housing
  2. Social security and social equalisation
  3. Health and care
  4. Education and culture
  5. Regional equalisation


-         Equality and the welfare society


-         New challenges to the welfare state (the 1980s and the 1990s)


-         Summary



Historical phases


The era of the ”social state”: 1890-1945


- Establishment (first initiatives): 1890-1920

- Stagnation: 1920-1935

- New emphasis on social security as a public task: 1935-1940


The era of the welfare state:


-         The phase of expansion: 1945-1966

-         The phase of consolidation: 1967-1981

-         New challenges and pressure against established welfare institutions: the 1980s and 1990s



Different welfare models:


-         The liberal model (USA, Canada, Australia): public social assistance only given top the poorest, social assistance is modest, most people rely on private insurance


-         The corporatist model (France, Germany, Austria, Italy): rights and services depend more on professional belonging (different rights for different groups), churches and private charity organisations are involved in welfare production


-         The Social democratic model (Scandinavia): the production and financing of welfare is carried out by public authorities, social rights are universal and not means tested (given everyone irrespective of private fortune)



Main characteristics of the Norwegian welfare model


-         full employment

-         universality (free and equal services to all citizens irrespective of private fortune

-         social equality promoted by the state

-         welfare services are produced and paid for by the public authorities

-         equality between the different regions




-         1946: the national Housing bank

-         Housing-cooperatives

-         “Social homes”




Social security


-         1946: Family allowances

-         1957: Health insurance becomes obligatory and universal

-         1959: means tested pension for old people was replaced by universal pension (1967: new pension reform: a minimum pension is guaranteed to all and in addition a sum is given that reflects the wage level during professional life

-         1959: universal unemployment benefit

-         1961: allowances for disability and rehabilitation

-         1965: subsidies for widows and single mothers (from 1981: subsidies also for single fathers)

-         1967: all the different subsidies and allowances are assembled in one administrative body, the Folketrygd (the National insurance)



Health and care:


-         1969: new hospital law according to which hospitals are run by the county but mainly financed via the state budget

-         Nursing homes for the old: mainly run by the municipalities





-         New universities in Bergen (1946) and in Tromsø and Trondheim (1968)

-         1959: public comprehensive school extended no tine years

-         1947: Public banking system for students

-         The 1980s and 1990s: kindergartens are built (but here many private agents are also involved)



Regional equality


-         1960: The Regional Development Bank




-         The scope of public welfare initiatives increased largely after the Second World War


-         In an international comparison the Norwegian welfare model has been distinguished by a large public sector (public authorities produce and finance welfare services) and universal rights that are not based on means testing


-         The development of the welfare state in Norway reached its peak in the 1960s and 1970s


-         The system of universal social rights and an extensive public sector required a particular society: it required economic growth, close to full employment, social solidarity and a demographic pattern that secured that enough young people worked to pay the pensions of the older


-         All these premises changed from the late 1970s.


-         Today, the future of the welfare state is uncertain?