Elias Naumann, Wouter de Tavernier, Laura Naegele, Moritz Hess
Public support for sanctioning older unemployed – a survey experiment in 21 European countries

European Societies, 2020: 22, Heft 1, S. 77-100
ISSN: 1461-6696 (print); 1469-8307 (online)

The public opinion literature has found that the age of the benefit recipient is an important determinant in the formation of welfare state attitudes. Older people are perceived as more deserving of help and also punished less for not accepting a job. We argue that such a preferential treatment of older people depends on the social and economic context. In this article, we examine public support for demanding active labour market policies in 21 European countries. Relying on a survey experiment varying the age of the unemployed person, our analysis confirms that older unemployed are punished less than younger unemployed for not accepting a job offer. However, this effect varies between countries and our evidence suggests that support for exempting older individuals from demanding active labour market policies disappears as societies age. Moreover, support for stricter sanctions in general is higher in countries with a higher unemployment rate and in countries that already have rather strict active labour market policies. These findings question the public’s role as a veto player in the reform process as it seems unlikely that public opinion will block attempts to further strengthen demanding active labour market policies.