What do we know about welfare regimes in Latin America? What do we know about the role of (f)actors shaping social protection development and inclusion? What do we know about recent debates regarding social protection and welfare in Latin America?

This blog series aims to facilitate some of the results of a recently published book in Routledge titled ´Welfare and Social Protection in Contemporary Latin America’ (Cruz-Martinez, 2019). Besides this blog, the series also features contributions by Armando Barrientos and Joan Tejedor-Estupiñán.


Historical context

Pioneer countries in Latin America created their first welfare programmes in the early twentieth century (Mesa-Lago, 1978). The consolidation of welfare programmes and institutions took place during the state-led industrialisation era, following an import-substitution–industrialisation strategy engineered by structuralists at the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL).

Social insurance programmes spread in the consolidation period (1950s-1970s) to the vast majority of the countries following the corporatist–statist welfare regime model, in which mainly unionised urban formal workers and the military benefited (Graziano & Jessoula, 2018; Sanchez de Dios, 2019). This strategy did not alter the vast differences between the economic/political elites (insiders benefiting from social protection) and the majority of the population working in the informal and rural sector (outsiders excluded from large part of social protection) (See Garay, 2016; Roberts, 2014). Rather, it produced a high degree of fragmentation and an inequality of entitlements, reproducing the inequalities deriving from the labour market (Huber, 1995). Following Heclo’s (1981) stages of welfare state development, we can argue the Latin American region is in the process of social policy expansion, or what Garay (2016) calls the ‘inclusive turn’.

The implementation of social assistance policies to the already established social insurance programmes created an inclusionary path for outsiders – population in the rural areas, working in the informal sector and the unemployed – into the social protection systems (Cecchini et al., 2015). The twenty-first century saw an increase in social expenditure, an extension of the generosity and coverage of welfare programmes, and improvements in the movements towards equitable universalisation of social policies (Martinez-Franzoni and Sánchez-Ancochea, 2016).

However, the CEPAL recently confirmed that the improvements of social and labour inclusion during the first 15 years of the new millennium have been insufficient (e.g., only 28.6 per cent of households in the region have reached a minimum level of double inclusion – social and labour inclusion) (CEPAL, 2017). Social protection systems in Latin America are fragmented and inequitable, and the commodification and privatisation of the health and pension systems, guided by profit, have negatively impacted inequality and social welfare (Sojo, 2017). Therefore, even though the improvements in the welfare state development are unquestionable, there is still a long road ahead to secure a decent quality of life with real equal opportunities for all residents in Latin America.


What do we know about welfare regimes in Latin America?

The welfare regime informs us about how the state, market, family, NGOs, communities and other alternative actors combine to produce welfare. We can identify three streams in the welfare regimes scholarship. First, researchers have grouped all Latin American countries in a joint regional welfare regime  (Barrientos, 2004). Second, a larger group has identified a variety of welfare regimes in the region arguing that grouping Latin American welfare systems into one model does not show justice to the intra-regional disparities (Barba Solano, 2009; Martínez Franzoni, 2008; Marcel and Rivera, 2008). Third, more recently, another stream proposed the need to go beyond the national level to explore potential intra-national welfare regimes and show territorial dynamics of social policy (Cruz-Martinez, 2018; Ratigan, 2017).

Barrientos, in the second blog of the series, expands his previous research on welfare regimes to explore the growing dualism in social protection. He raises important questions about the future of welfare institutions in the region and proposes a research agenda to explain the growing dualism.


What do we know about the role of (f)actors shaping social protection development and inclusion?

Local and external actors and factors play an essential role in the politics of social protection systems by shaping, promoting or inhibiting the development of the emerging welfare state. Traditionally, social protection literature in Latin America has focused on examining the role of political and economic local (f)actors (Garay, 2016; Niedzwiecki, 2018; Pribble, 2013). Global social policy literature adds important explanatory factors to understand the role played by international and supranational actors in the development, diffusion and consolidation of social policy (Kaasch et al., 2019; Bianculli, 2018)

In the third blog post, Tejedor-Estupiñán investigates the role of Colombian-EU Free Trade Agreements and the impact of explicit clauses on social protection and labour rights. His main conclusion is that promotional labour provisions in the trade agreement have not produced positive externalities to the Colombian labour legislation and much less on labour rights. Tejedor-Estupiñán claims this contradicts the European Union principles, which adversely affects the less developed party in the trade agreement - in this case, Colombia.


What do we know about recent debates regarding social protection and welfare in Latin America?

The debate around private versus public provision of welfare is an ideological one. Through contemporary history, we find different dominant ideologies in regard to the role of the state in the economy. Before the emergence of social protection systems in the 1920s and 1930s, the dominant social policy was charity due to the absence of state-sponsored social welfare provisions (Dixon and Scheurell, 1990). The 1930s could then be considered as a critical juncture in which the idea of social citizenship with entitled social protection as a citizen right was in its embryonic form. The 1980s–1990s economic and debt crises brought a new dominant social policy increasing the role of the market forces and the individual responsibility in the provision of welfare. The new social policy incorporated outsiders into social assistance programmes. Therefore, we can argue that Latin America has shifted from an informal welfare regime to a corporatist–informal welfare regime as a consequence of the emergence of social protection programmes in the early twentieth century, and to a liberal–informal regime since the Washington Consensus period (Powell and Barrientos, 2004).


May this blog serve as an invitation to read the book 'Welfare and Social Protection in Contemporary Latin America', where readers will be able to deepen their knowledge on aspects of social protection in each of the three questions presented here, and through interesting cases of studies and comparative analysis.



Barba Solano, C. (2009). Los regímenes de bienestar latinoamericanos y la reforma social. In: C. Barba Solano, G. Ordoñez Barba and E. Valencia Lomelí, eds., Más allá de la pobreza: Regímenes de bienestar en Europa, Asia y América. Guadalajara: Universidad de Guadalajara, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, pp. 327–370.

Barrientos, A. (2004). Latin America: Towards a liberal–informal welfare regime. In: I. Gough and G. Wood, eds., Insecurity and welfare regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America: Social policy in development contexts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 121–168.

Bianculli, A.C. (2018). From free market to social policies? Mapping regulatory cooperation in education and health in MERCOSUR. Global Social Policy, 3(18), pp. 249-266. doi:10.1177/1468018118780085

Cecchini, S., Filgueira, F., Martínez, R. and Rossel, C. (2015). Towards universal social protection: Latin American pathways and policy tools. Santiago de Chile: ECLAC, United Nations.

CEPAL. (2017). Linkages between the social and production spheres: Gaps, pillars and challenges. Santiago de Chile: United Nations.

Cruz-Martinez, G. (2018). A bottom-up picture of intra-national welfare regimes: The case of marginalised communities in Puerto Rico. Journal of International and Comparative Social Policy. https://doi.org/10.1080/21699763.2018.1526696

Cruz-Martinez (2019) Welfare and Social Protection in Contemporary Latin America. London: Routledge.

Dixon, J. and Scheurell, R.P. (1990). Social welfare in Latin America. New York: Routledge.

Garay, C. (2016). Social policy expansion in Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Graziano, P., & Jessoula, M. (2018). Explaining Welfare State Developments: Towards a Comparative Research Agenda. Sciences Po LIEPP Working Paper(76), 1-25.

Heclo, H. (1981). Toward a new welfare state? In: P. Flora and A. Heidenheimer, eds., The development of welfare states in Europe and America. New Jersey: Transaction Books.

Huber, E. (1996). Options for social policy in Latin America: Neoliberal vs Social Democratic Models. In G. Esping-Andersen (Ed.), Welfare States in Transition: National Adaptations in Global Economies. London: SAGE Publications.

Kaasch, A., Koch, M., & Martens, K. (2019). Exploring theoretical approaches to global social policy research: Learning from international relations and inter-organisational theory. Global Social Policy. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468018119845570

Marcel, M. and Rivera, E. (2008). Regímenes de bienestar en América Latina. In: E. Tironi, ed., Redes, Estado y Mercado. Soportes de la Cohesión Social Latinoamericana. Santiago de Chile: Uqbar editores.

Martínez Franzoni, J. (2008). Welfare regimes in Latin America: Capturing constellations of markets, families, and policies. Latin American Politics and Society, 50(2), pp. 67–100.

Martinez-Franzoni, J. and Sanchez-Ancochea, D. (2016). The quest for universal social policy in the South: Actors, ideas and architectures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mesa-Lago, C. (1978). Social security in Latin America. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Niedzwiecki, S. (2018). Uneven social policies: The politics of subnational variation in Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Powell, M. and Barrientos, A. (2004). Welfare regimes and the welfare-mix. European Journal of Political Research, 43(1), pp. 83–105.

Pribble, J. (2013). Welfare and party politics in Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ratigan, K. (2017). Disaggregating the developing welfare state: Provincial social policy regimes in China. World Development, 98, pp. 467–484. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2017.05.010

Roberts, K. (2014). The Politics of Inequality and Redistribution in Latin America's Post-Adjustment Era. In Cornia, G.A., Falling Inequality in Latin America: Policy Changes and Lessons. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 49-72.

Sánchez de Dios, M. (2019) The reforms of welfare regimes at the turn of the century in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay. In Cruz-Martínez, G., Welfare and Social Protection in Contemporary Latin America, London:Routledge, pp. 72-98.

Sojo, A. (2017). Protección social en América Latina: la desigualdad en el banquillo. Santiago de Chile: CEPAL, Naciones Unidas.

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
  • Social insurance
  • Labour market programs/Public work/Productive inclusion
Social Protection Topics: 
  • Labour regulation
  • Social protection systems
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Labour market
    • Labour market - General
  • America - General
  • Latin America & Caribbean
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's