Generous Welfare Benefits Don't Make People Dependent

Some people believe generous welfare benefits make people more dependent — not so, according to researchers.

Some people believe that countries with generous welfare benefits make its citizens more dependent. However, Dr. Kjetil van der Wel and Dr. Knut Halvorsen write in their recent body of research, published in the journal Work, Employment and Society:


"Many scholars and commentators fear that generous social benefits threaten the sustainability of the welfare state due to work norm erosion, disincentives to work, and dependency cultures. This article concludes that there are few signs that groups with traditionally weaker bonds to the labor market are less motivated to work if they live in generous and activating welfare states."

Their study consisted of 19,000 survey responses from 18 European countries. Halvorsen and van der Wel examined how participants responded to the statement: I would enjoy having a paid job even if I did not need the money. The researchers then compared the participants' responses with the amount of money the country of origin spent on welfare and initiatives to boost employment.

The results showed the more a country allotted money to help people get back on their feet, the more likely people would agree with the statement. For example, participants from Norway, which pays the highest in benefits out of the 18, were more likely to agree with the statement (80 percent). Whereas responses from Estonia, which gives the least to such initiatives, were much less likely to agree with only 40 percent.

The researchers stated in a press release that the "notion that big welfare states are associated with widespread cultures of dependency, or other adverse consequences of poor short-term incentives to work, receives little support.” It cultivates an idea that when the worst of life hits you, there's something to fall back on. It makes people who receive that assistance want to give back — not fall back on it.

If you don't believe the researchers, hear what the president of Iceland has to say about the importance of a welfare system. In his Big Think interview, President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson explains how the economic and social successes of Nordic countries are based in their social welfare programs — not just for unemployment, but also for health and education, as well:

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