Participatory inequality and the welfare state preferences of the politically active: A study of four European countries

Student thesis: Phd


Across Europe, the welfare state is a focus of social and political contention. Participating in the democratic process offers a means for the public to voice their preferences. However, not everyone participates in politics. Research shows that there are significant participatory inequalities as those with greater socioeconomic resources are more likely to participate in politics. In light of these participatory inequalities, this thesis examines the representativeness of the welfare state preferences of the politically active. The main hypothesis posits that, if less advantaged socioeconomic groups are less likely to participate in politics, the welfare state preferences of the politically active are unlikely to be representative. The thesis brings together the comparative study of participatory inequality and social differences in welfare state preferences to examine data from the European Social Survey (ESS) 2008-09 for Germany, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Latent Class Analysis examines how preferences about the welfare state vary within Europe. By grouping individuals, the analysis shows that within societies there are different views about what should be the responsibilities of government. Using the latent classes, and considering a range of political actions, multivariate regression models show how social inequality determines conflict over the welfare state and transforms into political inequality. The association between preferences and political activity is examined to establish the representativeness of participant preferences. Finally, models combining welfare state preferences, political activity and social position address how social inequality shapes the link between political activity and welfare state preferences. Based on survey data for four European countries, the thesis finds that the politically active are not always representative in their preferences; however, the preference bias of participation varies in direction across countries and forms of political participation. Participatory inequalities do lead to the under-representation of support for the welfare state among the politically active but not in all cases. Examining the social stratification of preferences and participation, the thesis suggests that cross-national variations in the representativeness of participants may result from how preferences and participation are socially stratified. For instance, significant participatory inequalities can occur in contexts where there is less contention over the welfare state. Conversely, contention over the welfare state can coincide with egalitarian patterns of political activity. A concluding proposition is that the factors inhibiting the political participation of the socio-economically disadvantaged may also cultivate weaker levels of support for the welfare state.
Date of Award1 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMark Elliot (Supervisor) & Laura Morales-Diez De Ulzu (Supervisor)


  • Attitudes towards the welfare state
  • Political participation
  • Welfare state politics

Cite this