Welfare and Well-Being: Life Satisfaction Among Welfare Recipients in Rural China
In a new study, Professor Qin Gao and her colleague found that for rural participants in China’s social safety net program, positive psychological effects outweigh the stigma surrounding participation in means-tested welfare.
China’s Minimum Livelihood Guarantee program, also known as Dibao, was launched nationwide in rural areas in 2007 as part of the government’s plan to address severe poverty. The rural Dibao has since grown to become the main welfare program in China and the largest social safety net program in the world, reaching nearly 54 million recipients at its peak in 2013. Professor Qin Gao, the founding director of our School’s China Center for Social Policy, is a world expert on Dibao. Her book, Welfare, Work, and Poverty: Social Assistance in China, finds that Dibao has had positive effects on poverty reduction in China according to material measures, such as increased income and greater spending on education and health.
But do such economic interventions necessarily lead to improvements in psychological well-being? Studies have shown that stigma of welfare participation runs deep in rural China. Does this remain the case with the expansions in rural welfare, or does sigma threaten to undermine Dibao participants’ sense of self-worth and satisfaction with their lives?
Gao collaborated with Huawei Han of the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Beijing Normal University and a visiting scholar at her Center, to undertake one of the first rigorous assessments of well-being among rural Dibao participants. Using national longitudinal survey data, the two investigators were able to pose the question: “Is welfare participation in rural China associated with increased or decreased life satisfaction?”
In a recently published paper in the Journal of Happiness Studies, Gao and Han report that rural Dibao has had significant positive effects on recipients’ life satisfaction, resulting from improved perceptions of social status and increased confidence about the future, particularly among young and older age groups. The results of their study, they write, “suggest that Dibao’s positive psychological effects outweigh its negative psychological effects from welfare stigma in rural China.”
The authors further note that their findings are consistent with empirical studies from other developing countries that found increased life satisfaction for welfare participants.
The paper concludes, however, by calling for measures to remove welfare stigma and enhance in-kind supports for middle-aged recipients of rural Dibao. Members of this group typically place more weight on work in their overall life satisfaction due to shouldering the burden of supporting the family.
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