Nordic egalitarianism at the face of evolving social risks
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Department of Social Work, Child Welfare and Social Policy, Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway
Submission date: 2023-06-10
Final revision date: 2023-11-03
Acceptance date: 2023-12-02
Online publication date: 2024-02-19
Publication date: 2024-02-19
Corresponding author
Ivan Harsløf   

Department of Social Work, Child Welfare and Social Policy, Oslo Metropolitan University, Pb. 4, St. Olavs Plass, 0130, Oslo, Norway
This article relates growing social inequalities in the Nordic countries to evolving social risks in the era of globalisation. Vital redistributive arrangements in the Nordic model, and their underlying rationales, are challenged by profound structural changes. New social risks have emerged since the 1970s, stemming from destabilised family and labour market structures. The article considers theories devised to approach positive as well as negative sides of these developments. It adopts a critical realist perspective to delve deeper into the historical and ontological dimensions of social risks. Combining literature review and analyses of comparative data the article assesses how the Nordic welfare states are protecting weak groups such as single providers, their children, low educated groups in the labour market and non-Western immigrants. As a window to probe the Nordic model’s bulwark protecting these groups, discussions are particularly centred on the situation in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 Great Recession. Results suggest that new social risks are evolving, primarily affecting the most vulnerable. While publicly funded education, previously crucial in social redistribution, has become less effective, the Nordic countries still exhibit a relatively democratic distribution of precariousness in the labor market, providing a sense of security even for unskilled workers. However, non-Western immigrants continue to face a disproportionate risk of poverty, leading to increased segregation.
This article originated as a keynote speech delivered at the Research Network 26 ESA Mid-term conference: From the cradle to the grave? Social policy in diverse temporal and spatial contexts, Berlin, October 7–8, 2022. The empirical scope of the study has been adjusted to align with the topic of Social Policy Issues’ special issue. The author is grateful for the valuable input provided by two anonymous reviewers.
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