Are Economically 'Kinder, Gentler Societies' Also Greener?

Environmental Science & Technology 47/21: 11993–12001.

Posted: 5 Dec 2017 Last revised: 12 Dec 2017

Date Written: September 30, 2013


Several studies examining implications of the modern welfare state arrive at rather positive conclusions: generally, they find that economically “kinder, gentler societies”, that is, countries providing stronger state-sponsored social-safety nets for their people, perform better on various accounts, such as social and political stability, or economic performance. Recent research suggests that benign implications also exist for the environment in the sense that investing more in social policies may contribute to stronger environmental protection and higher environmental quality. We present theoretical arguments in favor, but also against this hypothesis, and evaluate it empirically with cross-sectional data for 68 countries. In contrast to previous studies, the results offer only weak and inconsistent support for the claim that social policies and environmental performance are systematically related. This means that governments of economically kinder, gentler societies would be ill advised to hope for positive “spillover effects” of social policies into the environmental realm. The findings also suggest, however, that more disaggregated analyses are necessary, since beneficial effects may exist in some environmental domains, but not in others.

Suggested Citation

Bernauer, Thomas and Boehmelt, Tobias, Are Economically 'Kinder, Gentler Societies' Also Greener? (September 30, 2013). Environmental Science & Technology 47/21: 11993–12001.. Available at SSRN:

Thomas Bernauer (Contact Author)

ETH Zurich ( email )

Center for Comparative and International Studies
Building IFW, office 45.1, Haldeneggsteig 4
Zurich 8092, 8092
+41 44 632 6466 (Phone)
+41 44 632 1289 (Fax)


Tobias Boehmelt

ETH Zürich ( email )

Zürichbergstrasse 18
8092 Zurich, CH-1015

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