08 Oct

Public Opinion towards Targeted Benefits for the Unemployed – a Vignette Study on Perceived Deservingness of Target Groups in Germany

Journal of European Social Policy, forthcoming

The issue of welfare targeting is back on the political agenda in European welfare states. Benefit recipients are subject to different rules, depending on age, family status and work. For instance, strict conditions and harsh sanctions apply in particular to young unemployed people. This article investigates public opinion towards welfare targeting in three policy areas – unemployment benefits, conditionality of benefits and sanctions – and utilises a factorial vignette experiment presented within a representative German survey. The results suggest strong support for welfare targeting. Respondents are more likely to offer generous benefits and fewer obligations and sanctions to unemployed people who are elderly, have caring responsibilities, are of German ethnicity and have high job seeking ambitions. The negative effect of foreign ethnicity is moderated by the ideological standpoint of the respondent, highlighting the mechanisms underlying welfare chauvinism. Accordingly, policy support strongly depends on the individual circumstances of the affected target group.

20 Aug

Making Deservingness of the Unemployed Conditional: Changes in Public Support for the Conditionality of Unemployment Benefits

with Bernhard Ebbinghaus and Elias Naumann
In W. van Oorschot, F. Roosma, B. Meuleman, & T. Reeskens (Eds.), The Social Legitimacy of Targeted Welfare: Attitudes to Welfare Deservingness. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 167-185.

Research question & method

Since the 1990s stricter conditions for the (long-term) unemployed to receive benefits have been on the “activation” agenda. However, policy makers are constrained in their reform efforts by the economic and fiscal situation, the pre-existing institutional contexts, and public opinion. This cross-national and longitudinal study investigates whether the social legitimacy of benefit obligations for the unemployed is affected by the changing economic and varying institutional context. We use data from the European Value Survey, a repeated cross-sectional survey that was conducted in 1990, 1999 and 2008 in 23 European countries. Support for conditions for unemployment benefits is measured with an item that asks whether people who are unemployed should have to take any job available.


We find that the main economic indicators, economic growth and unemployment rate, are significantly related to support for conditionality. People living in wealthier countries are more likely to be in favour of conditionality, whereas a high unemployment rate reduces such support. Concerning institutional features, we find some support for the assumption that people in welfare states with more generous social policies prefer stricter conditionality for access in order to protect the generous benefits against any misuse.

14 May

The Position of Organized Interests towards Labour Market Policies in Germany: A Content Analysis of Press Releases

With Benedikt Bender
In B. Ebbinghaus & E. Naumann (Eds.), Welfare State Reforms Seen From Below: Comparing Public Attitudes and Organized Interests’ Policy Positions in Britain and Germany. Palgrave Macmillanm, forthcoming.

Research question & method

Unions, employers’ associations and social welfare organizations play an important part in reforming the labour market. This study investigates their positions in this policy field, in particular towards minimum wages and labour market regulations. Two contradicting arguments are outlined concerning the interest groups’ strategic interests. They have to represent their core membership and, at the same time, pursue strategic long-term goals that might contradict their clienteles’ interests.



We estimate the interest groups’ positions with a content analysis. This method is regularly used for political parties but has not been applied to interest groups so far. About 1500 press releases from 14 organizations serve as our data source.


We find that unions pursue different strategies depending on their (potential) membership. The service union strongly advocate the introduction of a minimum wage while industrial unions focus on stricter regulation of atypical contracts. Employers’ associations generally oppose minimum wages but their main priority is defending the flexibility of agency work. The positions of social welfare organizations are shaped by their dual role as representative of the marginalized and as employers in the social sector. Overall, we show that content analysis is a valuable tool to analyse positions of interest groups.


28 Jan

How Unemployment Experience Affects Support for the Welfare State. A Real Panel Approach

with Elias Naumann and Johannes Bähr
European Sociological Review, Volume 32, Issue 1, 1 February 2016, Pages 81–92, https://doi.org/10.1093/esr/jcv094 

Research question

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.