The political economy of social vulnerability. The social and political determinants of new social risks in western European countries
Studi su mutamento sociale, istituzioni giuridiche e comunicazione Macerata University Macerata, Italy
DIAP Politecnico di Milano Milan, Italy
The undergoing changes in Western Europe are rapidly transforming the characteristics and dimensions of social problems. The so-called "European social model" was founded for many decades on the association among permanent employment, stability in the division of roles within the nuclear family and the progressive extension of welfare guarantees. All these conditions seem to be lacking in contemporary society because of the greater job insecurity and the consequent discontinuity in incomes, the organisational tensions in the family and the inertia of the welfare system. Taken together these transformations cause a spreading situation of social vulnerability in the population.
This paper is primarily aimed at describing the dimensions and characteristics of social vulnerability in Western Europe using ECHP data as the empirical basis. Although the literature on the "new social risks" is now quite broad, there is so far no analysis which shows the actual diffusion and intensity of those risks.
The analysis maintains a comparative purpose: the objective is to identify different profiles of vulnerability existing in different "regions" of Western Europe. Since these profiles depend on a complex set of socio-economic and institutional characteristics, which are not always homogeneous within the larger nations states of the EU15 (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK), one of the contributions of the paper is to develop comparison on a sub-national scale, starting with the identification of 28 "macro-regions" in Europe, identified on the basis of the socio-economic characteristics of the different areas of which the EU15 is composed.
On the ground of a multilevel analysis, the paper attempts to verify to what extent the vulnerability profiles previously recognised are influenced in their extent and distribution by a plurality of social, economic and political factors. Social factors such as class structure, family organization, level of education are considered, as well as more institutional and regional factors, such as social programs addressing either "old" or "new" social risks, and the regional level of economic development. The analysis considers the role played by welfare systems in "covering" specific areas of vulnerability.