Welfare states and social policy are decisive factors influencing individual life opportunities as well as the position of different social groups in a particular society (i.e. they contribute to stratification). This is because social policy alters the income position that people achieve on the job market. Moreover, in the broadest sense, the welfare state has in large part contributed to the development of the stages of life referred to as childhood/adolescence, adulthood, and old age. Welfare states depend on cultural context and values. They are embedded in the various ideas of what equality, justice, and even personal responsibility and safety are supposed to be. There is by no means a consensus with regard to these ideas; instead, they are in conflict with each other, surfacing as clashing elements in public discourses.
It is the individual social security systems – i.e. the programs of job market, family, health care policies, etc. – that are the agencies of social security and redistribution processes. These need to be viewed against the background of ideas and interests. Moreover, it is important to compare the different types of welfare states (“regimes”), since this makes it possible to better understand the particulars of the German welfare state and alternative forms of social security. For this reason, it is desirable for students to become familiar with the comparative research being conducted on welfare states worldwide.
Demographic transformation and globalization confront welfare state systems with complex restructuring issues. In like manner, changing ways of life – e.g. in the family – and new political ideas lead to welfare state reforms. Therefore, the degree program discusses factors characterizing recent sociopolitical developments, including discourses on topics such as, for example, “economizing,” “retrenchment policy,” and “activation”.