In This Article Social Insurance and Social Justice

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Theories and Concepts
  • Social Insurance
  • Social Justice
  • Welfare State
  • State and Citizenship
  • Ideology
  • Generational Equity
  • Future of Social Insurance

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Social Work Social Insurance and Social Justice
Judie Svihula, Carroll L. Estes, Brooke Hollister, Erica Solway, Brian R. Grossman, Leah Rogne
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 September 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0159


The concept of “justice” dates back to Aristotle, and in 533 CE it was defined in Roman law as “the constant and perpetual wish to render everyone his due” (Isbister 2001, p.3; cited under Introductory Works). The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology defines justice as “a concept referring to fairness and to the process of people getting what they deserve” (p. 164). Although the definition has not changed appreciably over the centuries, there are myriad viewpoints on social justice (for a good summary of theories, perspectives, and approaches to social justice, see the Oxford Bibliographies article Social Justice and Social Work). Amid the competing perspectives, state welfare schemes administer programs, dispense important goods and services, and establish laws relevant to attaining social justice. A large component of the welfare state is social insurance, a mutually binding contract between a legitimate state and its citizens for promised benefits in return for income taxes. Social insurance in the United States is generally defined as programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, and workers’ compensation programs, that provide a measure of protection to various populations. Older adults, younger persons with disabilities, children, survivors, and others are protected by these programs from devastating circumstances such as overwhelming health-care costs or loss of income due to events such as death of a wage earner, retirement, loss of employment, and illness. Capitalist democracies such as Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States comprise contradictory forms of distribution and social participation. The political economy theory explicates how political alignments shaped by the two ideologically incompatible social structures, a capitalistic economy and a democratic polity, affect welfare policy options and legislation. A major social insurance debate that highlights social justice is the idea of generational equity versus generational interdependence. Generational equity emphasizes even apportionment of benefits and costs among generations in social welfare, entitlements, the federal deficit, and the national debt; generational interdependence emphasizes social solidarity among generations and universal coverage.

Introductory Works

A foundational understanding of social programs and justice contextualizes the discussion of social insurance and social justice. To begin, in the Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology, Allan Johnson (Johnson 2000) provides a basic understanding of social justice broadly conceived within the framework of fairness and deservedness. Authors at the online resource Studies in Social Justice attempt to tie theory to social transformation and provide substantive analyses of the topic. As noted, government policies of redistribution are derived from varied perceptions of social justice. Isbister 2001 portrays the issues countries face in achieving societal justice. Schraad-Tischler 2011 develops and compares thirty-one Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries’ achievements on six dimensions of social justice. Ageing Horizons, an online publication, examines contemporary analyses, research, and themes on policy issues relevant to an aging society, many of which are related to the concept of social justice. The US Social Security Administration website chronicles social insurance program history and data. Research and reports by leading experts in the field are available on the National Academy of Social Insurance website. Topics covered include Social Security, Medicare, and long-term care.

  • Ageing Horizons.

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    Online journal that describes and discusses major controversies of policy issues related to an aging population. The theme for Volume 1 is “Pension Reform, Social Justice and Population Ageing,” wherein the authors consider social justice as it relates to the older population and pension schemes.

  • Isbister, John. 2001. Capitalism and justice: Envisioning social and economic fairness. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian.

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    Describes foundational components of justice and outlines features of capitalism; considers national and international issues in achieving societal justice, ways of achieving a just distribution of income, and boundaries of justice.

  • Johnson, Allan G. 2000. Justice. In The Blackwell dictionary of sociology: A user’s guide to sociological language. 2d ed. By Allan G. Johnson, 164. Oxford, UK, and Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    An entry defining justice and referencing three major scholars on the concept.

  • National Academy of Social Insurance.

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    An authoritative resource that provides information and research by leading experts on welfare state programs. Includes a primer that provides information on Social Security benefits, financing, and policy options for program improvement, titled Social Security: Benefits, Finances, and Policy Options: A Primer.

  • Schraad-Tischler, Daniel. 2011. Social justice in the OECD—How do member states compare? Sustainable governance indicators 2011. Gütersloh, Germany: Bertelsmann Stiftung.

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    Study compares thirty-one countries on six dimensions of social justice: poverty prevention, equitable access to education, labor market inclusiveness, social cohesion and nondiscrimination, health, and intergenerational justice.

  • Social Security Administration.

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    A comprehensive resource on history, events, statistics, and data related to social insurance programs. For example, see Social Security History.

  • Studies in Social Justice.

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    Online journal published by the Centre for Studies in Social Justice at the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Includes articles on social justice in society, culture, economy, politics, and philosophy that attempt to link theory to social change and analyze substantive issues.

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