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Why are the highly educated more sympathetic towards welfare recipients?

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Publication details

JournalEuropean Journal of Political Research
DateAccepted/In press - 8 Sep 2021
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 2 Nov 2021
Early online date2/11/21
Original languageEnglish


Stigmatising stereotypes about welfare recipients play a crucial role in building public support for welfare retrenchment. Existing literature finds that the highly educated are more sympathetic towards welfare recipients. This is surprising given the economic advantage associated with educational attainment. Furthermore, educational attainment has increased even as sympathy for welfare recipients has declined. I address these puzzles using three decades of British survey data and find that it is the socially liberal attitudes rather than the economic advantage associated with higher education that explains why this group is sympathetic towards welfare recipients. These findings reveal an educational cleavage in stereotypes about welfare recipients, which is based on non-economic concerns, and has implications for support for welfare retrenchment and policies such as increased conditionality. This cleavage is weaker in more highly educated regions, implying that there are diminishing returns from increasing educational attainment in terms of sympathetic attitudes towards welfare recipients.

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