Welfare Deservingness Perceptions of Single Mothers in Hungary: Institutional Design, Government Discourse, and Public Attitudes

Herke, Boglárka Luca (2022) Welfare Deservingness Perceptions of Single Mothers in Hungary: Institutional Design, Government Discourse, and Public Attitudes. PhD thesis, Budapesti Corvinus Egyetem, Szociológia és Kommunikációtudomány Doktori Iskola. DOI https://doi.org/10.14267/phd.2022037

PDF : (dissertation)
PDF : (draft in English)
PDF : (az értekezés tézisei magyar nyelven)

Official URL: https://doi.org/10.14267/phd.2022037


The literature on single mothers’ welfare deservingness is dominated by analyses carried out in Anglo-Saxon countries. In these countries, politicians gained social legitimacy for the cut-back of single mothers’ benefits by framing them as immoral and lazy welfare recipients. In contrast, this dissertation investigates single mothers’ perceived welfare deservingness in the 2010s Hungary, where single mothers were not the primary subjects of the government discourse, but where the government strongly promoted traditional family ideals and decreased the level of targeting towards single parents. The dissertation uses a complex research design to explore the social legitimacy of these changes, and investigates not only the public attitudes towards single mothers’ state support, but also the factors that could shape it. First, it reviews the historical-institutional design of single mothers’ state support in Hungary, and compares it with the characteristics of the American and British systems to reveal how the different designs have paved the way for connected reforms and discourses. Second, with critical discourse analysis, the thesis investigates how the discourse of the Hungarian government frames single-parent families’ deservingness. Third, based on survey data, it explores the public image and perceived deservingness of single mothers. Fourth, it investigates the role of the deservingness criteria (control, attitude, reciprocity, identity, and need) in single mothers’ perceived deservingness with regression analysis of statements and a vignette-based survey experiment. The results show that single mothers’ state support enjoys a high level of social legitimacy in Hungary that could be explained by several factors. First, compared to the Anglo-Saxon countries where single mothers were perceived as non-employable citizens and were included in assistance-based benefits in most of the 20th century, in socialist Hungary, and also after the regime change, single mothers were perceived as working mothers, and their state support was embedded in the family allowance system. Second, single mothers have a deserving public image in Hungary: they are imagined as poor mothers, who work a lot to make a living for the family, and who lack financial and emotional support. Third, single mothers are perceived as deserving based on four deservingness criteria (control, attitude, reciprocity, need). Meanwhile, public attitudes are also in line with the government’s conservative policy regarding the preference towards traditional family (that captures the identity criterion by suggesting that single-parent families are different from the desired family type). This preference, however, is not enough to generate negative welfare attitudes towards single mothers, because they are seen as deserving based on the other four deservingness criteria, but also because some of the conservative beliefs about family (e.g., a child needs both parents to live a happy life) increase, and not decrease, single mothers’ perceived deservingness. Both the supportive attitudes of the public, and the long-standing, stable design of single parents’ benefits, explain the more cautious communication of the government regarding single parenthood (compared to other alternatives of the traditional family). Single-parent families are not explicitly framed as undeserving in the government discourse, but they are accepted only as second-rank, less deserving, and less healthy families compared to traditional ones. The high level of social legitimacy of single mothers’ state support also explains the government’s policy towards single parents: it could not simply cut back single parents’ benefits, therefore, it has instead gradually devalued them and introduced new ones without targeting, as this is a less salient strategy.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD thesis)
Supervisor:Janky Béla
Uncontrolled Keywords:egyszülős háztartás, Magyarország, jólét
ID Code:1224
Date:7 June 2022
Deposited On:09 May 2022 06:05
Last Modified:11 Jan 2023 10:40

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