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“Poor Carina” and “Lazy Robert”: Social Constructions and the Mental Health of Welfare Clients

EasyChair Preprint no. 1205

16 pagesDate: June 17, 2019


Politicians engage in, and the media reflects, socially constructions of welfare recipients as undeserving. Such efforts seek to change public opinion among the mass publics, but what are the effects on the target population receiving welfare benefits? Social construction and policy feedback theory suggest that negative messages can be internalized by target populations, while evidence from public health research shows that people experience psychological costs in response to some forms of stigma, such as racism. We empirically examine if undeserving messages affect the mental health of welfare recipients. To do so, we exploit both a quasi experiment entailing a dramatic shift in deservingness messaging after a welfare recipient in Denmark became the subject of a very public debate, and detailed administrative data on the consumption of anti-depressants by the welfare recipients. We find evidence that welfare recipients experienced worse mental health outcomes after being exposed to negative deservingness messaging.

Keyphrases: behavioral public administration, Deservingness, Psychological costs, social constructions, Welfare benefits

BibTeX entry
BibTeX does not have the right entry for preprints. This is a hack for producing the correct reference:
  author = {Martin Baekgaard and Pamela Herd and Donald Moynihan},
  title = {“Poor Carina” and “Lazy Robert”:  Social Constructions and the Mental Health of Welfare Clients},
  howpublished = {EasyChair Preprint no. 1205},

  year = {EasyChair, 2019}}
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