Fairness, Personal Responsibility and the Welfare State

The research project “Fairness, personal responsibility and the welfare state” studies how fairness considerations, in particular with respect to personal responsibility, affect the support and effectiveness of welfare policies. We initiated several research projects and below we highlight key projects.

Personal responsibility

We have conducted experiments that examine the role of choice, in particular the choice between risky alternatives, in assignment of personal responsibility for outcomes and find that people are held responsible for choices even when the choices are nominal or forced. In this regard we also study the link between personal responsibility and support for redistributive welfare policies. We find that people are less willing to support welfare schemes if they believe those who receive benefits are responsible for their own situation and we also document international differences in such beliefs. Furthermore, in two sets of lab experiments, we examined how people make distributive decisions and punishment decisions in situations when they have incomplete information about who is deserving and who is not, simulating situations where it is impossible to implement the welfare policies that are seen as most fair. We find that people are more concerned with avoiding false negatives, i.e. not give to or to punish someone who is deserving, than with avoiding false positives, i.e. giving to or not to punish someone who is underserving.

Trust and fairness ideals

To understand how today’s Western societies work, it is important to understand trust and reciprocity among individuals with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. On a representative sample ofindividuals living in the Netherlands, and belonging to the native majority group we study whether the fairness ideals one holds depend on whether the interaction partner is native as well, or is, instead, non-native. We also study whether trust and reciprocation depends on the (differences in) social status of the interaction partners.

In several experiments we have examined what we refer to as references dependent social preferences. We find that expectations of unfairness constitute references points and that these reference points affect prosocial behavior because individuals are loss averse also with respect to social outcome.

Welfare state and social security

We explore how the recent influx of labor migrants to Norway from EU countries has affected public support for the welfare state. A set of survey experiments is used to measure welfare chauvinistic attitudes towards labor immigrants in an unobtrusive manner and identify potential causal effects of intra-EU labor immigration on attitudes towards welfare spending. We find a high degree of manifest and concealed welfare chauvinism. The tendency is especially strong among women.

In a large field experiment, conducted in collaboration with the Norwegian tax administration, we also study how perceptions of how other people’s tax evasion affect tax compliance. We find that manipulations of people’s beliefs about other people’s tax compliance has a large effect on selfreported income.