This article tests the claim that a small number of distinct ‘welfare regimes’, combining institutional patterns and social welfare outcomes, can be identified across the developing world. It develops a methodology for clustering a large number of developing countries, identifying and ranking their welfare regimes, assessing their stability over the decade 1990—2000, and relating these to important structural variables. It confirms the distinction between three meta-welfare regimes: proto-welfare state regimes, informal security regimes and insecurity regimes. However, it discriminates between relatively successful and failing informal security regimes. Regime membership is ‘sticky’ over time, but has been modified by two global trends: the HIV-AIDS pandemic in Africa and the growing role of remittances in some countries.