New CSB Working Paper: In a category of their own? A multigroup SEM comparison of the welfare state attitudes of social workers and the general public

02 Apr 2019

Social workers’ welfare state attitudes are of prime interest, as it is expected that these attitudes may potentially influence client treatments. In this paper, we compare social workers’ welfare state attitudes with those of the general public in Flanders in order to test two competing hypotheses. On the one hand, the professional identification hypothesis assumes that social workers have a more positive outlook towards the welfare state as a result of socialization, self-interest and professional identification. On the other hand, the selection hypothesis conversely assumes that only citizens with specific socio-demographic characteristics and ideological preferences choose to study social work and therefore stresses the similarities of social workers to citizens with similar characteristics and preferences. Using a multigroup structural equation modelling approach, we compare three dimensions of welfare state attitudes: (1) the perceived economic and moral consequences of the welfare state (welfare state criticism), (2) the call for control of benefit users (welfare state sanctioning) and (3) the perceived overuse of welfare state benefits (welfare state overuse). Our results show that the welfare state attitudes of Flemish social workers differ considerably from their fellow citizens. Although the attitudinal discrepancy decreases when controlling for socio-demographic characteristics and political preferences, the latent mean differences between social workers and the general public remain significant. Social workers are indeed more positive about the moral consequences of the welfare state, less in favour of more control and punishment of benefit users, and suspect less benefit abuse compared to the general population. Both the professional identification and selection hypotheses are partly confirmed.
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