c. 1300, from Old English wel faran "condition of being or doing well," from wel (see well (adv.)) + faran "get along" (see fare (v.)). Similar formation in Old Norse velferð. Meaning "social concern for the well-being of children, the unemployed, etc." is first attested 1904; meaning "organized effort to provide for maintenance of members of a group" is from 1918. Welfare state is recorded from 1941.