The term paternalism generally takes a pejorative sense to designate a patriarchal or falsely patriarchal conception assumed by a company boss to address his staff under the pretext of protecting them . This attitude reveals a relationship of dependence and subordination through affective values. From a psychological point of view, a paternalistic stance considers adults as children, infantilizing them in order to better establish their authority .

What is paternalism?

Paternalism consists of a leadership style in which a leader , usually a man, uses his power to control, protect, punish and reward in exchange for the obedience and loyalty of his followers, subordinates or employees , as the case may be. These types of links can take place in different areas, such as politics, the business world, the educational system or the area of ​​health care.

  • Etymology
  • Characteristics of paternalism
  • Advantage
  • Disadvantages
  • Political paternalism
  • Medical paternalism
  • Business paternalism
  • Legal paternalism
  • Examples


The term “paternalism” is composed of “paternus” which refers to “father” , “alis” which means “relative to” and the suffix “ism” which refers to “doctrine” . In that sense, this word refers to the “doctrine of applying authority and protection relative to the father . 


Characteristics of paternalism

  • It does not promote autonomy or teamwork, tasks, responsibilities or functions are not delegated because it is considered that subordinate people do not have the capacity or knowledge to carry them out.
  • A system that involves a dominant authoritarian figure who assumes the behaviors of a parent and who expects his “subordinates” to respond to him with loyalty and obedience .
  • Decisions are made by a dominant figure without taking into account the opinions of subordinates.
  • The dominant figure acts as a parent who wishes to promote the welfare of his subordinates and protect them from any danger or risk .


  • Good behavior is recognized by the dominant figure. For example, a head of government rewards those who follow him faithfully with goods and food.
  • The interests of subordinates are taken into account even if their opinion is not consulted.
  • The dominant figure makes decisions so that each individual can be successful , which means that there is less competition between them. For example, in a company, a paternalistic boss will want all of his employees to be successful which results in less rivalry and competition in the workplace.
  • All responsibilities fall on the person who assumes the paternalistic role .


  • Sometimes the dominant figure will need to discipline his subordinates in a non-traditional way .
  • The bad decisions taken from above will cause more dissatisfaction by the very fact that they were not consulted.
  • Subordinates (as the case may be, employees, citizens of a government, patients, etc.) will become increasingly dependent on the dominant figure. This can cause constant supervision to be necessary to ensure completion of tasks.
  • Those who assume the paternalistic role can blind themselves to their power and make decisions that only benefit them.
  • A paternalistic system does not favor autonomy or self-initiative .

Political paternalism

In the political sphere, there is talk of paternalism when the State intervenes in government decisions assuming the role of a father who sets the rules of his home , assuming that the State will act and ensure the best interests of citizens, regardless of whether they agree. or not. In this sense, when a government acts in a paternalistic way, it is usually an authoritarian regime that distances itself from democracy by not allowing participation and freedom to its citizens.

Medical paternalism

When a physician interferes with a patient’s ability to make a decision regarding his or her health , it is referred to as medical paternalism. This can take different forms depending on the degree of intensity. For example, a doctor may not inform the patient of all treatment alternatives so that he is forced to take the option that he proposes. Even a doctor who assumes paternalistic behavior can lie or exaggerate the consequences of not following his recommendations so that the patient is motivated to comply with them .

Business paternalism

Business paternalism designates a patriarchal or falsely paternal conception that the boss or director of a company assumes to direct its staff, under the pretext of protecting them . This attitude creates a relationship of dependence and subordination through affective values.

For example, in the 19th century, many companies developed a paternalistic form of management, offering workers social advantages such as accommodation, education, medical care, among others. In contrast, these workers owed respect and obedience to the bosses. Thus, paternalism allowed workers to retain loyalty and legitimize their wages.

Legal paternalism

Legal paternalism can be understood as the behavior of an authority that decides unilaterally to restrict for its own good the freedom of action of its subordinates .

A paternalistic legislator can vote laws that put fundamental rights at risk by deciding what is good and what is not . In a liberal perspective , it is considered that any protective law proposed for the good of the citizens, that by means of prohibition, coercion or through provisions that violate the freedom of the people, is decreed, is based on paternalism legislative.



In Chile , there has been talk of a mining paternalism , alluding to the industrial paternalism that has existed in the mining companies of that country. Apparently, in this context, the company has been assumed as a family in which the employer is the one who occupies the paternal role and directs all the actions of the company as if his workers were his children, who must be educated, led and if necessary, apply punishments.


An example of paternalism in Mexico can be seen in the paternalistic political proposals of some candidates in presidential elections . Many of them propose the implementation of social assistance programs that, far from combating poverty in the country, represent an unfavorable factor for entrepreneurship and job creation.


Spain is a business system that has traditionally been paternalistic by offering its employees meal vouchers , which is in a way a subsidy. Likewise, companies support the Social Security of their workers at 23%. The worker only contributes 4.9%

Leave a Comment