The Future of Social Policy in Europe: An Analysis of Atitudes toward Social Welfare

By Toikko, Timo; Rantanen, Teemu | Journal of Economic and Social Development, September 2015 | Go to article overview

The Future of Social Policy in Europe: An Analysis of Atitudes toward Social Welfare


Toikko, Timo, Rantanen, Teemu, Journal of Economic and Social Development


1. Introduction

One of the tasks of social policy is to support the economic development to which it contributes, for instance by optimizing the relationship between the citizens and the labor market. Attitudes toward social welfare indicate how citizens appreciate social policy in general, and especially how they evaluate the government's social-policy measures. In a well-functioning society, citizens' opinions are taken into account in governmental policies. To be effective, social policy must be accepted by the citizens it is meant to serve. For this reason, scholars have focused their attention on attitudes toward social welfare (Ervasti, 2012; Gërxhani, Koster, 2012; Larsen, 2008; Salmina, 2014; Svalfors, 1997; van Oorschot, 2006).

Attitudes toward social welfare are connected to the level of national social policy. For instance, Blekesaune and Quadagno (2003) emphasize the idea that situational factors influence public attitudes toward welfare-state policy. Situational factors refer to the level of national social policy that can be expressed by various social-policy indices (for instance, those related to social expenditures and income inequality).

The study examines citizens' attitudes toward social welfare in 23 European countries and whether situational factors (the level of income inequality, social expenditures, and social insurance) influence these attitudes, which, in this case, are those focused on poverty and income inequality. The analysis is performed using the framework of the welfare-state typology (Esping-Andersen, 1990).

2. Concepts

2.1. Attitudes Toward Social Welfare

Although an attitude is often understood to be a personal trait, some researchers emphasize it as a social and contextual construct (e.g., de Rosa, 1993). According to Eagly and Chaiken (1993), the various definitions of attitude feature two common properties. First, an attitude refers to an object; this object can be concrete or abstract, specific or general, but in any case, an attitude always has a target. The second aspect of attitude is evaluative; the evaluation can have various dimensions, such as good or bad, harmful or beneficial, pleasant or unpleasant, and likable or unlikable (Ajzen, 2001).

The concept of attitudes toward social welfare has referred to the responsibility of the state (Valdimarsdóttir, 2010), to attributions for poverty (e.g., Blomberg, Kallio, Kroll 2010), to attitudes toward welfare policy (Bullock, 2004), and to opinions regarding social welfare services and social security benefits (Muuri, 2010). In this study, attitudes toward social welfare focus on those related to poverty and income inequality. Attitudes are studied in two forms: as respondents' opinions regarding national policy and as a general attitude toward poverty.

Previous studies reveal that many factors influence attitudes toward social welfare. Political ideology significantly affects attitudes (e.g., Valmidarsdóttir, 2010). The field of study and level of education also affect attitudes, although the results are contradictory (cf. Pfeifer, 2009). Additionally, studies show that women, more than men, support the welfare state (Blekesaune, Quadagno, 2003). Age is also a significant factor in attitudes toward welfare. (Valdimarsdóttir, 2010). According to Blekesaune and Quadagno (2003), situational (i.e., unemployment) and ideological (i.e., egalitarian ideology) factors influence public attitudes toward welfare state policy.

2.2. Situational Factors

Welfare states can be organized into groups according to situational factors. EspingAndersen's (1990) classic definition divides welfare states into three groups: the liberal (Anglophone countries), the conservative (continental Europe and Japan), and the social democratic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden). The different groups of welfare states have different strategies for tackling poverty and inequality.

The welfare state is a definition that expresses the level and intensity to which the state acts in the protection and promotion of the well-being of its citizens. …

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