Sociologie: Onderzoek Arbeid, Bedrijf en Sociale Zekerheid

Project 2: Draagvlak voor sociale zekerheid

This project's topic is the social legitimacy of Dutch social security arrangements, among different social and economic groups in society. It focuses on public support for such arrangements, especially on support for recent and future changes in social security policies. It will analyze, i.e. describe and explain, the degree to which people's relevant attitudes and beliefs in the field of social welfare coincide (or not) with the principles, practices and outcomes of (changes in) policies. It will pay attention to the groups' view on developments towards stricter activation of unemployed and disabled people, towards decentralization of responsibilities and privatization of social security administration, to trends towards de-collectivisation of social arrangements, the limitation of benefit rights and the expansion in the field of work-care combination and life-cycle based schemes. Special attention will be paid to the view groups have on the principle of solidarity and their willingness to accept and contribute to solidaristic relationships between various risk categories (horizontal solidarity, as e.g. between professional groups, workers and unemployed, between the generations, migrants and non-migrants, workers and carers, etc.) and between higher and lower incomes (vertical solidarity).

The project assumes that various social security arrangements and policy developments will have varying support among different groups of citizens and workers. It is the main scientific aim of the project to understand and explain such differences. Groups of interest are workers versus unemployed or disabled people, workers in various sectors of industry, workers of different skill- and job-level, part-time/flexible and fulltime/core workers, worker and carers, male and female workers, as well as groups of citizens, like groups of different age, income, ethnicity, political stance etc.

The theoretical approach taken in the explanatory analyses starts from the assumption that people's support for welfare arrangements is influenced by considerations of self-interest (related to their membership of specific socio-economic groups), as well as by cultural and ideological considerations. Each type of factor mirrors a central perspective on human behaviour and motivations: the perspective of the ‘homo sociologicus’ and of the ‘homo economicus’ (e.g., Lindenberg, 1990; Kangas, 1997). Empirical studies show more often than not that both factors play a significant role at the same time (‘homo socio-economicus’) (Albrekt Larsen 2005). This means that the degree to which social security arrangements are supported by various groups in society depends on their specific values and attitudes, as well as on the economic interest they have in arrangements. This makes it imperative that explanations of support levels are based on clear and reliable indicators of an individual's and a group's cultural-ideological and interest position. In empirical analyses the relative contribution of the various indicators to the overall explanation has to be assessed. Relevant indicators of interest that will be included in the analyses are: socio-economic status, work status (employed, unemployed, pensioner, homemaker etc), jobtype and joblevel, income type and income level, household type and household size, life cycle stage, care responsibilities, etc. Cultural indicators will include: work ethic, political stance, pro-social and solidaristic attitudes, egalitarianism, justice beliefs, deservingnes beliefs, attitudes towards individual and collective responsibilities, etc. Welfare opinion studies have shown that people's age and educational level are important variables to be analyzed, but their interpretation needs special attention since they can indicate cultural as well as economic differences between people (Svallfors 1995).

Analyses focusing specifically on understanding solidarity patterns and related attitudes and beliefs, start from an explanatory model derived from (classical) sociological theory (Durkheim 1966, Weber 1961, Parsons 1951, Hechter 1987), which distinguishes between two basic sources for support for solidaristic arrangements: shared identity and shared utility (e.g., Van Oorschot & Komter, 1998). In this model solidarity is defined as people's willingness to accept and contribute to individual and collective interests they share with others, even if this would contradict their self-interest. The model stipulates that such willingness depends on (mixes of) the identities and affective ties people experience in their relationships with others, the moral obligations they perceive and feel committed to, the degree to which solidaristic arrangements function in their personal interest, and the degree to which people tend to accept legalistic authority.

The project's methodological approach is twofold: it will use primary and secondary data. The primary data are collected by means of a cross-sectional, representative sample of the Dutch population of 16 years or older. This survey is organized and carried out under project 1. In a first step the analysis will be descriptive, focusing on sketching degrees of support and solidarity among the various groups mentioned above, like (various types of) workers, unemployed en disabled people, carers, pensioners, migrants etc. In a second step multi-variate analyses will be applied to assess the relative explanatory power of a series of cultural and structural variables.

The project will not stand on its own. It explicitly strives for accumulation of knowledge of welfare and solidarity legitimacy by comparing its results with findings from secundary data-sources. Comparisons over time are possible thanks to the longitudinal opinion surveys of the Dutch Social and Cultural Planning Office (SCP), and to the TISSER Solidarity Study of 1995. The SCP studies usually contain few items on social security legitimacy and solidarity, but the advantage is that questions are repeated in exactly similar wordings for some decades on end. The relevant questions used by SCP will be asked in the project's survey too, which allows for direct comparison. In contrast to the SCP-data the project's survey will contain a larger number of structural and cultural data, which is why the project can describe and explain differences in legitimacy and solidarity between socio-economic groups in more detail. The TISSER Solidarity Study of 1995 was a detailed survey that asked many questions on social security legitimacy and solidarity. A series of the most relevant of these questions will be asked in the project's survey, as a result of which detailed information will be available regarding the question what changes in attitudes and beliefs have taken place in the last 10 years, and how this might be related to changes in policies.
In addition to cross-time comparison, the project will compare its findings with those of a number of European-wide surveys, the data of which are available through the Department of Social and Cultural Studies of Tilburg University, as well as through ESPAnet, the Network for European Social Policy Analysis. The surveys concerned are the European Values Study (EVS), Eurobarometer surveys by Eurostat, the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP), and the European Social Survey (ESS). None of these surveys have welfare or social security support as its main topic, but all contain various related questions. The most relevant of these will be incorporated in the project’s questionnaire, so that direct comparisons can be made. The comparative individual level data will be supplemented with contextual data (like national statistics on economic growth, unemployment rates, types and degree of welfare spending, etc) in order to analysis what factors could explain typical Dutch support and solidarity patterns.

The project results in a descriptive public report, a series of articles in scientific journals, and a phd-thesis. In addition, the findings from the analyses will be disseminated nationally and internationally through conference papers and presentations.


Veen, R.J. van der Achterberg, P.H.J. Raven, J., 2009, De legitimiteit van de verzorgingsstaat

Raven, J. Achterberg, P.H.J. Veen, R.J. van der Yerkes, M.A. (2011) An institutional embeddedness of welfare opinions? The link between public opinion and social policy in the Netherlands (1970-2004)