Welfare stereotypes

Really intrigued by this research summary in the Monkey Cage the other day.  It’s not that Americans are particularly selfish when it comes to welfare, its’ just that they hold particularly nasty stereotypes of welfare recipients:

Aarøe and Petersen conducted survey experiments in the United States and Denmark to investigate whether stereotypes shaped Danish and European attitudes. They randomly exposed some participants in both countries to canned information suggesting that a welfare recipient was lazy, others to information suggesting that a welfare recipient was motivated to find work, and others to no substantial information about the recipient. They then asked people to evaluate social welfare benefits.

On average, Americans were considerably more likely to associate welfare with laziness than Danes. But what’s interesting is that these stereotypes were largely overwhelmed by the canned information when it was available. When the man on welfare was described in the following terms:

He has always had a regular job, but has now been the victim of a work-related injury. He is very motivated to get back to work again

the differences between Americans and Danes disappeared. Both were largely willing to support social welfare measures. As summarized by the authors:

(1)… individuals in two highly different welfare states — the United States and Denmark — have different default stereotypes about whether welfare recipients are lazy or unlucky; (2) … these differences in stereotypes create differences in support for welfare benefits to a recipient when no clear information about the recipient is available; (3) but … the effects of these default stereotypes are crowded out when direct information is available and, hence, support among Americans and Danes becomes substantially and statistically indistinguishable — despite a lifetime of exposure to different welfare state cultures.

Well, how about that.  So, I suppose this can also be taken as further evidence that when it comes to American’s far less readiness to help others, it comes back to white ethnocentrism.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Welfare stereotypes

  1. David says:

    Interestingly, the “laziness” factor in welfare opposition seems to be selectively applied to non-whites, as well. Not sure if you have seen this recent experiment work by DeSante in the AJPS:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ajps.12006/abstract

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