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A study of the cultural explanation of welfare: the effect of values on social policy within the welfare states

By Nam Kyoung Jo


Recent years have seen increasing attention on culture within the school of social policy and the development in theorising the relationship between culture and welfare. However, the cultural analysis of welfare has not been sufficiently supported by empirical evidence. Within the existing research, the causal effect of culture on social policy is either abstract (historical) as the cultural foundations of welfare or nebulous as welfare attitudes which are conversely dependent upon welfare policy. This research aims to find and show the empirical evidence for the effect of culture on social policy. \ud \ud A critical review of prominent theoretical arguments and empirical work on the relationship between culture and welfare leads us to a conceptualisation of the cultural context for policy making with the societal values which are neither as abstract as the universal human basic values nor as concrete but situation-dependent as public opinion, and of the effect of culture on social policy as twofold: the ex-ante causal effect and the ex-post legitimacy control effect. Drawing on all three waves of European Values Study and corresponding World Values Survey data we attempt to measure the societal values within 22 OECD countries, which are comparable across time and country, equivalently obtainable both at the individual and collective levels and stable over time. \ud \ud Our data analysis shows that so-called welfare states vary in terms of the cultural context and this variation matter in public opinion on welfare issues and welfare policy decisions. We find that public opinion on the cause of poverty and public attitudes toward policy support for the unemployed are strongly dependent upon the levels of societal values of the corresponding society, and that the level of welfare generosity and welfare policy priorities in terms of the proportion of the welfare budget allocated to different groups and areas are partly predictable by differences in the cultural context. It is suggested that the cultural context has an influence on social policy making. We also find that mothers with children under the age of 5, whose participation in the labour market is strongly supported by family policy, are likely to refer to their traditional family values in making decisions to work. Given that their working would somehow mean their take-up of supports provided by family policy, this implies that their attitudes toward family policy are partly dependent upon their family values. It is suggested that values matter in policy attitudes which are critical not only to the legitimating support of the public for certain policies but also to the take-up/user rate of certain policy instruments. \ud \ud Drawing on the findings, it is suggested that culture matters in social policy not only theoretically but also empirically, that the effect of culture on welfare policy making can be found both at the before and after stages of decision making from the viewpoint seeing the whole policy process and that, more practically, better understanding of the cultural context of society and values of people would contribute to more effective policy making

Publisher: Social Policy and Social Work (York)
Year: 2010
OAI identifier:

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