Sophie's Choice: Social attitudes to welfare state retrenchment in bailed-out Portugal
Summary (3 min read)
- In times of austerity, welfare states are often called into question.
- In crisis-ridden Europe, most political debates, at the national and supra-national levels, revolve around income redistribution trade-offs.
- The troika’s intervention marks the first attempt to restructure the Portuguese welfare state according to non-universalistic principles.
- According to the second logic, if one is aware that social rights imply obligations, one may favour a targeted view in which the enjoyment of social rights is based upon the extent of one’s individual contribution and need.
- In section 3, the authors discuss the data collection and the selection of variables, and present the regression models mobilized to test the hypotheses.
2. Literature Review and Hypotheses
- The first hypothesis takes its inspiration from recent literature on the ‘dualization’ of advanced post-industrial societies (Häusermann and Schwander 2010; Rueda 2005), which suggests western populations are increasingly divided into two groups with contrasting job market performances.
- This has led dualization scholars to hypothesize that it is primarily for reasons of self-interest that outsiders ‘prefer policies that allocate resources based on need, rather than contribution-payments’, while insiders favour: ‘policies that reward their – more continuous and stable – labour market performance’ (Häusermann and Schwander 2010: 3).
- The authors second hypothesis (H2) is thus that respondents are generally more likely to choose the universalistic, all-rights option than any of the other more contributory understandings.
- Second, the recent rise in protest activities in Portugal in response to austerity measures and welfare cuts (Baumgarten 2013) is likely to have contributed to an increase in Portuguese awareness of what social rights mean and what welfare provision implies, i.e. ‘social rights consciousness’.
- Rights are contested not only within oneself (i.e., one’s legal consciousness is a dialectical process, responsive to concrete action-problems in real world situations, which evolves over time potentially in contradictory ways), but between different selves (politicians, judges, and ordinary citizens, for example, often disagree about the interpretation and application of rights).
3. Data and Methods
- The authors data emerges from an original and nationally representative survey of the Portuguese population on citizen rights and obligations, governmental responsibility towards welfare and social provision, and welfare arrangements.
- The survey replicates some parts of the 2008 module on welfare attitudes of the Fourth Round of the European Social Survey (ESS), to which it adds blocks of questions from pre-existing surveys (International Social Survey Programme 2004), as well as new ones (e.g. questions on ‘social rights consciousness’).
- A survey company especially hired and trained conducted face-to-face interviews at respondents’ homes.
- Fieldwork took place between 8 and 30 April 2013.3 Descriptive statistics of the sample are summarized in Table 1. [Table 1 here].
- The dependent variables are about which social rights people believe should be protected from welfare retrenchment.
- The authors derive them from the following survey question: ‘If the government had to reduce social spending, which of the following rights do you consider 3 A copy of the questionnaire is available from the authors upon request.
- To avoid this bias, the authors phrased the question in positive terms.
- Conversely, the authors take all other answers (none, one, or two rights) to reflect a contributory understanding of public social provision, with certain social risks or vulnerabilities given priority over others.
- The independent variables include reported political participation, ideology, social rights consciousness, and socio-economic controls.
- The modelling strategy aims to capture four different opinions, each one representing perspectives on universalism-targeting spectrum, based on number of rights that people argued should be universally guaranteed even in times of crisis: choosing one right represents full targeting; choosing two represents targeting; choosing three rights represents universalism; and choosing all four rights represents full universalism.
- The authors created dummy variables for each type of response and used them as dependent variables in binary logistic regression models.
- The distribution of responses suggests that the sample is almost evenly split between those who chose a universalistic model and those who chose a contributory model.
- Model C includes respondents who chose two rights that should be universally guaranteed.
- Model D is composed of respondents who chose only one right, which is the most contributory of their groups of opinion.
- Results of the binary logistic models are provided in Table 3. [Table 3 here].
- According to this hypothesis, periods of economic austerity, such as that which Portugal has experienced since 2011, are expected to lead to a dualization of welfare attitudes, separating ‘insiders’ from ‘outsiders’.
- Like unemployed people, housewives and caretakers are 80% less likely to choose Model B (three rights) than those who are employed since neither group has contributory careers which enable them to aspire to pensions of reform or health care schemes reserved for insiders.
- The fact that the authors have not been able to identify similar attitudinal patterns on the part of insiders prevents us from fully confirming H1.
- Underlying individual choice for more universalistic and more contributory models seems to be a consistent set of ways of thinking and talking about social rights.
- In this article the authors have examined how social attitudes towards the welfare state fare under conditions of economic austerity.
- It would be useful to shed light on the processes through which social agents become ‘outsiders’ or ‘insiders’ in different periods of their lives as a result of certain life choices or eventualities, and how this intersects with their gender, ethnicity, and class position.
- Another hypothesis in the literature tested here was the ‘regime’ hypothesis.
- In sum, in this paper the authors have presented an overview of the social attitudes of the Portuguese towards the welfare state at a time when they were confronted with a hard choice.
- Only time will tell if their decision will prove as difficult to live with as Sophie’s choice.
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Frequently Asked Questions (2)
Q1. What contributions have the authors mentioned in the paper "Sophie’s choice: social attitudes to welfare state retrenchment in bailed-out portugal" ?
This article examines social attitudes towards social rights in Portugal. It utilizes original survey data from 2013 to study the distribution of welfare attitudes in a context of economic austerity and welfare retrenchment. The paper ’ s main contribution, however, is to empirically demonstrate that this choice is significantly shaped by pre-existing understandings of social rights in Portugal, namely its politically contested character. Their findings suggest that choice between universalistic and contributory models is not impervious to macro-institutional factors and labour market performance.
Q2. What are the future works in "Sophie’s choice: social attitudes to welfare state retrenchment in bailed-out portugal" ?
In particular, outsiderness emerges from their study as a category whose salience is as much related to one ’ s job market performance, as it is to the possibility of aspiring to concrete social policies. Future studies should explore this finding, both longitudinally ( e. g. before and after the crisis ), and cross-nationally ( e. g. to identify possible common patterns among Southern European countries ). Although circumscribed to one country and a single year, their results suggest that this neo-Meadian variable be included in future comparative and longitudinal studies of welfare attitudes. This finding can contribute to correct the underlying materialism of some of the ‘ dualization ’ scholarship, which sees insiderness and outsiderness as individual attributes arising from specific labour market careers, rather than as floating signifiers in which the authors all potentially fit at one point or another.