This article investigates whether self-interest as compared to values or ideological dispositions shape 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 LISS 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 and drops in household income lead 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 other 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.