Welfare States and Public Opinion

Welfare States and Public Opinion

Perceptions of Healthcare Systems, Family Policy and Benefits for the Unemployed and Poor in Europe

Claus Wendt, Monika Mischke and Michaela Pfeifer

Welfare States and Public Opinion comprises an informed inquiry into three fields of social policy – health policy, family policy, and unemployment benefits and social assistance. Though the analyses stem from research spanning fifteen countries across Europe, the conclusions can be applied to social policy problems in nations worldwide. Combining a detailed analysis of the institutional structure of social policy with the study of public attitudes toward healthcare, family policy, and benefits for the unemployed and poor, this book represents a new stream in public opinion research. The authors demonstrate that the institutional designs of social policies have a great impact on inequalities among social groups, and provide best practices for gaining public support for social policy reform.

Chapter 6: Conclusion: Comparing Public Attitudes in Three Fields of Social Policy

Claus Wendt, Monika Mischke and Michaela Pfeifer

Subjects: development studies, family and gender policy, economics and finance, health policy and economics, social policy and sociology, comparative social policy, family and gender policy, health policy and economics, welfare states


Welfare state institutions provoke substantial variations in public support of social policy. The idea behind this argument rooted in institutional theory is that established social policy institutions can serve as ‘markers of certainty’ (Eisenstadt 2003). Therefore, depending on the respective institutional design, people either trust that they will receive welfare state support when in need, or they do not. Although the specific focus of our analysis on differences in public opinion among socio-economic groups required the use of multivariate models, sometimes resulting in rather technical terminology, we deal with essential questions of human life. Our results demonstrate that citizens in European countries have a great trust in existing social policy programs and perceive the state to be essentially responsible for the provision of social transfers and services for the overall population. A privatization of healthcare, for instance, is clearly rejected. Since trust can take a long time to develop and be easily destroyed, our results inform politicians to be particularly cautious with plans for privatizing healthcare and other social policy institutions. At the same time, welfare state institutions have contributed to a greater trust, or bond, among citizens. Like other scholars’ work (see Section 2.2) our analysis finds high solidarity among social groups and often a great willingness of the better-off to support weaker members of the society. Thus, at the national level, solidarity is still very high among citizens of European countries, even though we also identified a polarization of public attitudes among population groups. These differences are, in...

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