The WellSIre project combines sociological and political science approaches to produce a comprehensive and robust empirical analysis of the social investment paradigm using a mixed methodology with five layers:

(1) quantitative-macro analysis of long-term welfare performance; (2) quantitative-micro analysis of individual socioeconomic conditions over in- and out-of-work transitions; (3) quantitative-micro analyses of subjective wellbeing and capabilities over the life-course; (4) qualitative-institutional analysis of temporal sequences of national social investment reform; and (5) qualitative-institutional analysis of subnational social investment policy delivery. Each layer provides distinct inferential leverage for causal explanations about (non-)returns on social investment reform across countries, with a focus on vulnerable groups in the working-age population.

Main themes:

Societal wellbeing
What are the wellbeing returns on social investment at a societal level? WellSIRe provides evidence of aggregate regularities in outcomes of changing welfare states, investigating the effect of social investment policies on welfare performance across OECD countries. We operationalise in a novel fashion macro-level data across OECD countries to analyse the medium-term aggregate effects of SI stock, flow and buffer policies with a focus on arguably the most critical stages in the post-industrial life-cycle course: transition into employment, family formation, and old age. Social investment returns are conceptualised in a longer-term perspective as people’s work- and welfare- related outcomes nationally. Our findings imply that the so-called Matthew Effects identified in previous research stem from a measurement of SI returns conceptualised in a short-term redistributive perspective. Moving on to longer-term returns to SI policies at the societal level reveals positive work- and welfare- related outcomes for such risk groups as families with children and low-skilled population.

Individual wellbeing across the life-course
What are the wellbeing returns on social investment at an individual level? This research layer turns to the micro-foundations and studies whether social investment policy mixes smoothen individuals’ life-course transitions with regards to objective socioeconomic conditions such as employment and poverty. We look at people of working age, subject to both labour-market and family-formation transitions, with a particular focus on high risk groups. We study whether different welfare policy functions can be regarded as trade-offs, or whether they reinforce each other in a complementary fashion. Data are drawn from various EU longitudinal and panel databases.

Subjectively perceived wellbeing
While quantitative measures of employment and poverty are crucial for understanding individual wellbeing, they may not correspond with subjectively perceived wellbeing. To what extent do social investment policies help people meet their aspirations related to family formation, work–life balance, and job satisfaction? The objective of the welfare state broadening from ex-post income compensation to ex-ante risk-prevention and capacitation is to ensure not only high levels of employment and inclusive social cohesion, but also life satisfaction. In this research layer, we take a novel subjective dimension into the framework of social investment to investigate whether and to what extent such policies are appreciated by citizens in terms of their wellbeing quality. More specifically, we study whether and under what circumstances social investment policies increase people’s capabilities to fulfil their own life-course aspirations in the domains of work, family formation, work–life-balance, and job satisfaction. Data are drawn from EU databases and household surveys, such as the European Working Conditions Surveys, European Quality of Life Surveys, and Eurofound.

National SI reform and EU agenda-setting
What are the trajectories of social investment reform? How do welfare states navigate through the complexities of the knowledge economies and the challenges of ageing societies? A number of countries in Europe have already re-calibrated their welfare states, taking into consideration social investment policy functions. In this qualitative research layer, WellSIRe studies temporal sequences of national social investment reform by means of institutional analyses and process tracing. It compares and assesses social investment recalibration efforts in 10 countries – that is, a mix of early movers (Sweden and Finland), bandwagoners (the Netherlands and the United Kingdom), late-comers (Germany and Spain), non-movers (Italy and France), and newcomers (Poland and Lithuania).

Sub-national SI delivery
Welfare organisations at the city/community level play a crucial role in the success of broader policy initiatives. Since social investment welfare provision is service intensive, WellSIRe goes beyond national reform trajectories and studies social investment delivery in cities. In-depth, observational investigation of local service delivery is carried out based on ongoing research comparing Barcelona (Spain), Gothenborg (Sweden), and Lyon (France). In future research, it is planned to expand this research base to Bologna (Italy), Dusseldorf (Germany), and Utrecht (the Netherlands). This case-selection strategy takes into account both well-explained and outlier country-cases from models on social investment outcomes in the quantitative layers. These case-studies serve to inspect whether the hypothesised causal mechanisms can be substantiated by qualitative research.