Elias Naumann
The Dynamics of Welfare Attitudes in Times of Welfare State Retrenchment

2014, Mannheim, University of Mannheim. (Dissertation)

What are the implications of the current socio-economic changes (i.e. population ageing or the financial crises) for social welfare? How do individuals react to increased reform pressure? How are well-established determinants of welfare attitudes such as self-interest and values affected by societal changes? The main contribution of the dissertation is twofold. On an analytical level I provide a thorough theoretical micro-foundation of existing welfare attitude research by paying explicit attention to the individual mechanisms that link the macro level (i.e. increasing reform pressure and retrenchment reforms) to the micro level (individual welfare attitudes). On a methodological level I contribute to welfare attitudes research by complementing the standard approach in the field – i.e. the estimation of multilevel models – with three innovative research designs: a difference-in-differences-estimation, a natural experiment and a survey experiment. These research designs help to overcome the methodological challenges linked to multilevel models (such as small N and endogeneity) and get closer to establish. The dissertation consists of four empirical studies, two are concerned with health care attitudes and two with pension reform preferences. I show that, even in times of austerity, support for public health care remains high and stable and that people are not merely self-interested in their attitudes towards public health care. Instead, there is a wide consensus in that, no matter their ideological views, all citizens generally tend to support public health care in times of austerity. As for pension attitudes, I show that population ageing leads to an increased acceptance of retrenchment efforts such as of a reform raising the retirement age. Moreover, detailed information on and increased awareness of population ageing weakens the opposition against raising the retirement age. Still, once enacted a reform increasing the retirement age reduces reform acceptance in the following year. This is strong evidence of a saturation effect and that people react against the reform direction.