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From Middle English welefare, probably from the Old English phrase wel faran (to fare well, get along successfully, prosper) (cognate with Middle Dutch welvare (welfare), Middle Low German wolvare (welfare), Middle High German wolvar, wolfar (welfare)). Equivalent to well +‎ fare. Compare also West Frisian wolfeart, Dutch welvaart, German Wohlfahrt, Old Norse velferð (whence Swedish välfärd (welfare)).

The first recorded use in the sense of "social concern for the well-being of children, the unemployed, etc." is from 1904 and in the sense of "organized effort to provide for maintenance of members of a group" from 1918.[1]



welfare (usually uncountable, plural welfares)

  1. (uncountable) Health, safety, happiness and prosperity; well-being in any respect.
    • 1918, W[illiam] B[abington] Maxwell, chapter XIX, in The Mirror and the Lamp, Indianapolis, Ind.: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, →OCLC:
      Nothing was too small to receive attention, if a supervising eye could suggest improvements likely to conduce to the common welfare. Mr. Gordon Burnage, for instance, personally visited dust-bins and back premises, accompanied by a sort of village bailiff, going his round like a commanding officer doing billets.
  2. (uncountable, chiefly US) Various forms of financial aid provided by the government to those who are in need of it (often called welfare assistance in UK English).
    Synonyms: income support, public assistance, social security

Derived terms[edit]



welfare (third-person singular simple present welfares, present participle welfaring, simple past and past participle welfared)

  1. (transitive) To provide with welfare or aid.
    welfaring the poor

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2023), “welfare”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.

Further reading[edit]

  • welfare”, in OneLook Dictionary Search.
  • "welfare" in Raymond Williams, Keywords (revised), 1983, Fontana Press, page 332.



Unadapted borrowing from English welfare.



welfare m (invariable)

  1. welfare state


stato sociale, benessere


  1. ^ welfare in Luciano Canepari, Dizionario di Pronuncia Italiana (DiPI)