Welfare chauvinism began as a populist political appeal to voters holding anti-immigrant attitudes and, over the decades, gained popularity in European welfare states. It found warm welcome among voters with preexisting anti-immigrant attitudes and offered justification for their stances. It proposes that immigrants should be entitled to lower shares in the country’s welfare services (such as healthcare, childcare, public schools, cash transfers, etc.) because they have no or limited contribution to the welfare state, and because they differ from natives with respect to their cultural, religious, ethnic or other traits. Both arguments are discriminatory but tap on different preferences. The first argument invokes perceptions what constitutes fair redistribution. It plays on people’s preference for reciprocity and their fear of being exploited. The second argument bluntly cultivates an ethnic, racial or cultural background-based discrimination and demands that welfare services should not travel across different groups. The proposed research attempts to unpack the drivers of welfare chauvinism in carefully designed experiments. These examine distributive choices that may involve redistribution. In some situations, the resources that need to be divided between parties would be accrued by asymmetric contributions by the parties – i.e., one party contributed less than the other. The experiments also examine distributive choices where the to-be-divided resources should be divided between parties with different real-life group identities. That is, parties would belong to different ethnic, cultural or religious groups. To get a comprehensive picture of the relevance of contributions and group identity on divisions, decision-makers will be stakeholders (i.e., for whom the outcome of the divisions financially matter) and spectators (i.e., for whom the outcomes do not matter). Comparing stakeholders’ and spectators’ choices gives a detailed view into how preferences change once selfishness is involved, and what people believe to be the unbiased fair solution. Some experiments will also test whether those who receive a share less than what they believed to be their fair share are likely to engage in unethical behaviors, both when this yields monetary compensation and when it does not. It also tests whether they would punish those who benefited from the redistribution. Finally, the proposed studies will also examine the potential drawbacks of the common methodology of eliciting unbiased fair solutions from spectators holding no monetary stake in the outcomes, but who may have other reasons to be biased. Estimating the impact of each argument and understanding the mechanisms of welfare chauvinism would be an important step toward crafting immigration policies that are widely embraced public. This approach may reduce polarization within societies along native-immigrant lines and mitigate the attractiveness of populist political formations.


Duration 01/10/2023 - 07/07/2027
Funding FWF

Department for Economy and Health

Principle investigator for the project (University for Continuing Education Krems) Dr. Linda Dezso
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