Journal of Applied Social Psychology

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Volume 49 Issue 9 (September 2019), Pages 547-608

The persistence of welfare stigma: Does the passing of time and subsequent employment moderate the negative perceptions associated with unemployment benefit receipt? (pages 563-574)

Abstract People receiving welfare payments are stigmatized. However, previous studies of welfare recipient stereotypes have not examined whether the stigma endures after payments are no longer received and have rarely considered the stigma associated with specific categories of welfare payments. We examined whether welfare stigma endures in three experiments (total N = 873) focused on one category of welfare recipient, people receiving government income support due to their unemployment. To test if this stigmatized identity marked or scarred how people are perceived, we compared evaluations of currently unemployed benefit recipients to currently employed people who either previously received this benefit or who had no stated history of benefit receipt. Across the three experiments, we found that current recipients of unemployment benefits were evaluated as much less conscientious, less human, and poorer workers, but as somewhat more extraverted than currently employed individuals irrespective of their welfare history. Moreover, we found that currently employed individuals were evaluated similarly, regardless of whether they had a prior history of benefit receipt, and the recency of this prior benefit experience. This pattern of results suggests that receiving unemployment benefits does not scar how a person is perceived by others, but only temporarily marks how they are perceived. These findings suggest that welfare stigma may create an evaluative barrier to returning to work, but that if this barrier can be overcome there are no negative evaluations of former recipients’ character. Overall, community members seem accepting of prior benefit receipt once a person returns to work.

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