IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Can Path Dependence Explain Institutional Change? Two Approaches Applied to Welfare State Reform


  • Ebbinghaus, Bernhard


Path dependence as a concept in institutional theories has become increasingly popular in economics and other social sciences. The key idea is that in a sequence of events, the latter events are not (completely) independent from those that occurred in the past. Yet, common usage of the concept often subsumes two markedly different models and approaches to understand historical sequencing. The two main processes of the past shaping the future - diffusion and developmental pathways - must be distinguished analytically. This paper juxtaposes (1) the unplanned 'trodden path' that takes shape through the subsequent repeated use by other individuals of that spontaneously chosen path, and (2) the ?branching pathways? or juncture at which one of the available alternative pathways must be chosen in order to continue a journey. Furthermore, the typical approaches and their explanatory purchase are discussed in reference to explanations of institutional change. The paper shows that the first path dependence theorem is too deterministic and inflexible, whereas the second approach is sufficiently supple to analyze various forms of institutional change.

Suggested Citation

  • Ebbinghaus, Bernhard, 2005. "Can Path Dependence Explain Institutional Change? Two Approaches Applied to Welfare State Reform," MPIfG Discussion Paper 05/2, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:mpifgd:052

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ebbinghaus, Bernhard & Hassel, Anke, 1999. "Striking deals: Concertation in the reform of continental European welfare states," MPIfG Discussion Paper 99/3, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
    2. Schmidt, Reinhard H & Spindler, Gerald, 2002. "Path Dependence, Corporate Governance and Complementarity," International Finance, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 5(3), pages 311-333, Winter.
    3. David, Paul A, 1985. "Clio and the Economics of QWERTY," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(2), pages 332-337, May.
    4. Milgrom, Paul & Roberts, John, 1994. "Complementarities and systems: Understanding japanese economic organization," Estudios Económicos, El Colegio de México, Centro de Estudios Económicos, vol. 9(1), pages 3-42.
    5. Lieberman, Robert C., 2002. "Ideas, Institutions, and Political Order: Explaining Political Change," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 96(4), pages 697-712, December.
    6. Reinhard H. Schmidt & Gerald Spindler, 2002. "Path Dependence, Corporate Governance and Complementarity," International Finance, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 5(3), pages 311-333, November.
    7. Liebowitz, S J & Margolis, Stephen E, 1990. "The Fable of the Keys," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(1), pages 1-25, April.
    8. Oona Hathaway, "undated". "Path Dependence in the Law: The Course and Pattern of Legal Change in a Common Law System," Yale Law School John M. Olin Center for Studies in Law, Economics, and Public Policy Working Paper Series yale_lepp-1002, Yale Law School John M. Olin Center for Studies in Law, Economics, and Public Policy.
    9. Colin Crouch & Henry Farrell, 2004. "Breaking the Path of Institutional Development? Alternatives to the New Determinism," Rationality and Society, , vol. 16(1), pages 5-43, February.
    10. Boeri, Tito & Brugiavini, Agar & Calmfors, Lars (ed.), 2001. "The Role of Unions in the Twenty-first Century: A Report for the Fondazione Rodolfo Debenedetti," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199246588.
    11. Hinrichs, Karl, 2000. "Elephants on the move. Patterns of public pension reform in OECD countries," European Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 8(3), pages 353-378, July.
    12. Hall, Peter A. & Taylor, Rosemary C. R., 1996. "Political science and the three new institutionalisms," MPIfG Discussion Paper 96/6, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Paul Teague, 2009. "Path Dependency and Comparative Industrial Relations: The Case of Conflict Resolution Systems in Ireland and Sweden," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 47(3), pages 499-520, September.
    2. Ron Boschma, 2015. "Towards an Evolutionary Perspective on Regional Resilience," Regional Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 49(5), pages 733-751, May.
    3. Johannes Huinink & Martin Kohli & Jens Ehrhardt, 2015. "Explaining fertility: The potential for integrative approaches," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 33(4), pages 93-112.
    4. Alexandra Lindenthal & Martin Koch, 2013. "The Bretton Woods Institutions and the Environment: Organizational Learning within the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)," Administrative Sciences, MDPI, vol. 3(4), pages 1-36, October.
    5. Zhang, Yongjing, 2011. "The successor's dilemma in China's single party political system," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 674-680.
    6. Powell, Justin J. W. & Solga, Heike, 2008. "Internationalization of vocational and higher education systems: A comparative-institutional approach," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Skill Formation and Labor Markets SP I 2008-501, WZB Berlin Social Science Center.
    7. Alessia Berni & Mariavittoria Cicellin & Stefano Consiglio & Luigi Moschera, 2012. "The evolution of the Italian Temporary Work Agency field: A path dependence perspective," Discussion Papers 10_2012, CRISEI, University of Naples "Parthenope", Italy.
    8. Sebastian Kohl, 2016. "Urban History Matters: Explaining the German--American Homeownership Gap," Housing Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 31(6), pages 694-713, September.
    9. Cerami, Alfio, 2006. "The Politics of Reforms in Bismarckian Welfare Systems: The Cases of Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia," MPRA Paper 92271, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    10. Simeon Simeonov, 2020. "Path Dependence: Determinants and Impacts of Technology Adoption," Economic Alternatives, University of National and World Economy, Sofia, Bulgaria, issue 2, pages 300-310, June.
    11. Hebel, Jutta & Schucher, Günter, 2006. "The Emergence of a New 'Socialist' Market Labour Regime in China," GIGA Working Papers 39, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies.
    12. Birgit Pfau-Effinger & Marcel Sebastian, 2022. "Institutional persistence despite cultural change: a historical case study of the re-categorization of dogs in Germany," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 39(1), pages 473-485, March.
    13. Blanck, Jonna M. & Edelstein, Benjamin & Powell, Justin J.W., 2013. "Von der schulischen Segregation zur inklusiven Bildung? Die Wirkung der UN-Konvention über die Rechte von Menschen mit Behinderungen auf Bildungsreformen in Bayern und Schleswig-Holstein," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Skill Formation and Labor Markets SP I 2013-504, WZB Berlin Social Science Center.
    14. Li, Renyu & Ma, Zhongxin & Chen, Xirong, 2020. "Historical market genes, marketization and economic growth in China," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 86(C), pages 327-333.
    15. Gottschall, Karin & Shire, Karen A., 2007. "Understanding employment systems from a gender perspective: pitfalls and potentials of new comparative analytical frameworks," Working papers of the ZeS 06/2007, University of Bremen, Centre for Social Policy Research (ZeS).
    16. Trif, Aurora, 2005. "Collective bargaining practices in Eastern Europe: Case study evidence from Romania," MPIfG Working Paper 05/9, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
    17. Patricia Kennedy, 2012. "Change in Maternity Provision in Ireland,“Elephants on the Move”," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 43(3), pages 377-395.
    18. Milan Žák & Petr Vymětal, 2006. "Institucionální aspekty nové komparativní ekonomie: ČR a EU [Institutional aspects of new comparative economy: Czech republic and European union]," Politická ekonomie, Prague University of Economics and Business, vol. 2006(5), pages 583-609.
    19. Ulybina, Olga, 2014. "Russian forests: The path of reform," Forest Policy and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 143-150.

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Gerum Elmar & Mölls Sascha H., 2013. "Corporate Governance-Systeme und Unternehmensfinanzierung - Empirische Befunde für deutsche Großunternehmen / Corporate Governance-Systems and Corporate Financing – Empirical Evidence for large corpor," ORDO. Jahrbuch für die Ordnung von Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, De Gruyter, vol. 64(1), pages 195-220, January.
    2. Esther Pittroff, 2016. "Whistle-blowing regulation in different corporate governance systems: an analysis of the regulation approaches from the view of path dependence theory," Journal of Management & Governance, Springer;Accademia Italiana di Economia Aziendale (AIDEA), vol. 20(4), pages 703-727, December.
    3. Thomas Rixen & Lora Anne Viola, 2015. "Putting path dependence in its place: toward a Taxonomy of institutional change," Journal of Theoretical Politics, , vol. 27(2), pages 301-323, April.
    4. Ghimire Kanksha Mahadevia, 2018. "Path Dependence, Abnormal Times and Missed Opportunities: Case Studies of Catastrophic Natural Disasters From India and Nepal," The Law and Development Review, De Gruyter, vol. 11(1), pages 31-76, January.
    5. Waldemar Kremser & Georg Schreyögg, 2016. "The Dynamics of Interrelated Routines: Introducing the Cluster Level," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 27(3), pages 698-721, June.
    6. Wiebke Roß & Jens Weghake, 2018. "Wa(h)re Liebe: Was Online-Dating-Plattformen über zweiseitige Märkte lehren," TUC Working Papers in Economics 0017, Abteilung für Volkswirtschaftslehre, Technische Universität Clausthal (Department of Economics, Technical University Clausthal).
    7. Christian Dahl Winther, 2007. "Optimal research effort and product differentiation in network industries," Economics Working Papers 2007-19, Department of Economics and Business Economics, Aarhus University.
    8. Emil Evenhuis, 2017. "Institutional change in cities and regions: a path dependency approach," Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, Cambridge Political Economy Society, vol. 10(3), pages 509-526.
    9. Vialle, Pierre & Song, Junjie & Zhang, Jian, 2012. "Competing with dominant global standards in a catching-up context. The case of mobile standards in China," Telecommunications Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(10), pages 832-846.
    10. Marc Flandreau & Clemens Jobst, 2006. "The Empirics of International Currencies: Evidence from the 19th Century," Sciences Po publications n°5529, Sciences Po.
    11. Hervé Dumez & Alain Jeunemaître, 2005. "La démarche narrative en économie," Revue économique, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 56(4), pages 983-1005.
    12. Weiss, Avi & Etziony, Amir, 2015. "The role of critical mass in establishing a successful network market: An experimental investigationAuthor-Name: Ruffle, Bradley J," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 101-110.
    13. Anand Menon, 2011. "Power, Institutions and the CSDP: The Promise of Institutionalist Theory," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 49(1), pages 83-100, January.
    14. Knieps, Günter, 2011. "Wettbewerb und Pfadabhängigkeit in Netzen," Discussion Papers 140, University of Freiburg, Institute for Transport Economics and Regional Policy.
    15. Udayasankar, Krishna & Das, Shobha & Krishnamurti, Chandrasekhar, 2008. "When is Two Really Company? The Effects of Competition and Regulation on Corporate Governance," Working Paper Series 19122, Victoria University of Wellington, The New Zealand Institute for the Study of Competition and Regulation.
    16. Tanjim Hossain & Dylan Minor & John Morgan, 2011. "Competing Matchmakers: An Experimental Analysis," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 57(11), pages 1913-1925, November.
    17. Carolina Castaldi & Giovanni Dosi, 2003. "The Grip of History and the Scope for Novelty: Some Results and Open Questions on Path Dependence in Economic Processes," LEM Papers Series 2003/02, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
    18. repec:hal:wpspec:info:hdl:2441/669 is not listed on IDEAS
    19. Vitor Trindade & Johannes Moenius, 2007. "Networks, Standards and Intellectual Property Rights," Working Papers 0705, Department of Economics, University of Missouri.
    20. Francisco J. Santos-Arteaga & Debora Di Caprio & Madjid Tavana & Aidan O'Connor, 2017. "Formalising The Demand For Technological Innovations: Rational Herds, Market Frictions And Network Effects," International Journal of Innovation Management (ijim), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 21(02), pages 1-43, February.
    21. Nicholas Economides, 1997. "The Economics of Networks," Brazilian Electronic Journal of Economics, Department of Economics, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, vol. 1(0), December.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:zbw:mpifgd:052. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service. RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.