Educational stratification and welfare attitudes in six European countries

Derks, A. (2005): Educational stratification and welfare attitudes in six European countries. Paper for the Espanet conference, September 22-24, University of Fribourg, Switzerland - TOR 2005/29.


Social exclusion and welfare dependency are no longer a matter of risk, but have become predictable outcomes of vulnerable social positions. This implies that the legitimacy of the welfare state has to make a strong appeal to solidarity and inclusion, since the principle of insurance, based on a 'veil of ignorance', is becoming less adequate (Rosanvallon, 1995). Finding a social basis for inclusive social policy, however, remains problematic, especially among the lower educated strata whose social status has become threatened. Drawing on data of the European Social Survey (2002) from six European countries, social attitudes with regard to equality, solidarity and redistribution are examined in connection to educational stratification. The paper shows that educational stratification not only influences the measure of agreement with egalitarian attitudes, but also influences the social and political meaning of these attitudes. The lower educated strata show higher levels of egalitarianism, but at the same time lower levels of social trust and universalistic social attitudes. But more importantly, with regard to egalitarianism an interaction effect is found between education and left-right attitudes. Among the higher educated strata, strong relations between egalitarianism and leftist (universalistic and inclusionist) social attitudes as well as leftist voting behaviour is found. Among the lower educated strata, these relations prove to be considerably weaker. This implies that the social and political meaning of egalitarianism differs between the educational strata. Egalitarianism of people with low educational attainments is relatively more particularistic and therefore it will fit in more easily with welfare chauvinism. Theoretically, this issue will be discussed with reference to the debate on meritocracy, the crisis of the welfare state and the 'new social question'.

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