Elias Naumann, Christopher Buss, Johannes Bähr
How Unemployment Experience Affects Support for the Welfare State: A Real Panel Approach

European Sociological Review, 2016: 32, Heft 1, S. 81-92
ISSN: 0266-7215 (print); 1468-2672 (online)

This article investigates whether self-interest as compared with values or ideological dispositions shapes individual attitudes towards the welfare state. Causal interpretations of how self-interest, values, and welfare state attitudes are linked have been difficult to sustain so far, as the research mainly relies on static, cross-sectional analyses. We address this empirical challenge using data from the Dutch Longitudinal Internet Studies for the Social Sciences panel (2008–2013) that covers the period of the international economic crisis. We investigate how individuals change their attitudes in times of economic hardship. Our findings confirm theoretical expectations that people change their support for unemployment benefits in reaction to changes in their individual material circumstances. Job loss leads to an increased support for public provision of unemployment benefits. The analysis also suggests that this attitude change is persistent. After the temporarily unemployed have found a new job, they do not return to their pre-unemployment attitude. In contrast, individual support for life course-related domains of the welfare state such as health care or pensions is not affected by changes in individual material circumstances. Our results show that individual material circumstances and thus self-interest have a sizable effect on how individuals change their welfare state attitudes.