While the welfare state literature has made great advances in describing and explaining policy, comparatively less time has been spent systematically examining the outcomes of those welfare policies. Prominent debates have largely centred on the extent to which welfare states have been retrenched and whether they can be effectively classified by regime type. This article argues that while such debates have resulted in valuable theoretical and empirical advances, there is both a need and an opportunity to focus more closely on the outcomes of welfare policy. We propose using the ‘capability approach’ as an evaluative framework to consider differences in outcomes across mature welfare states. The approach, as operationalised here, regards the real-world opportunities that individuals hold, rather than only the material resources provided to them, as being essential to understanding their welfare. The article uses a new capabilities-oriented measure of welfare to make a preliminary evaluation of the outcomes associated with different types of welfare policy regimes. The measure emphasises distributional inequalities associated with the domains of health, education and the economic conditions experienced by individuals. We apply it to 18 advanced welfare states using data sourced from the 2016 wave of the OECD’s (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) Better Life Index. © The Author(s) 2019.