What theory can help us to explain the expansion of social assistance in low and middle income countries? Prevailing theories of welfare institutions, including power resources and varieties of capitalism, were developed to study the welfare institutions that emerged among early industrialisers. The paper revisits these theories with a view to identifying elements of general applicability to emerging social assistance institutions among early industrialisers. Two hypotheses on the growth of social assistance are tested using panel data for 2000-2015 and a within-between mixed estimation model. The results suggest a general theory of welfare institutions is capable of throwing light on emergent welfare institutions in low and middle income countries, while highlighting important gaps.
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