Date of Award

Spring 2006

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Sociology & Criminal Justice


Applied Sociology

Committee Director

Mona Danner

Committee Member

Ingrid P. Whitaker

Committee Member

Judi Caron-Sheppard

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.S62 I54 2006


The welfare system in the United States underwent a major overhaul in 1996, transforming Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Since then, there has been little research conducted on attitudes toward welfare. This is still a topic worth investigating, as poverty and homelessness remain a problem in the United States.

This thesis hypothesized that attitudes about welfare would vary according to an individual's commitment to individualism, a hegemonic value in the United States. This thesis also hypothesized that welfare attitudes would vary according to an individual's education, gender, marital status, race, and religion.

Data from the 2000 National Election Study were used to investigate the following research questions: (1) To what extent, if any, is commitment to individualism and personal responsibility related to attitudes about welfare programs? (2) What demographic characteristics are also related to attitudes about welfare?

This thesis found that attitudes about welfare and Food Stamps, both means-tested programs, were much more negative than attitudes about Social Security, a contributory program. Commitment to individualism translated into negative attitudes about welfare programs. As commitment to individualism increased, support for welfare programs decreased. Unmarried individuals, minorities and non-Protestants were also more favorable towards welfare programs than married individuals, whites and Protestants. Finally, gender was significantly related only to attitudes about Social Security; females had slightly more positive attitudes about Social Security than males did.

Future research should include an investigation of the possible interaction between individualistic values and sociodemographic characteristics and how this, in turn, affects welfare attitudes. A qualitative study of welfare attitudes is also recommended to further investigate what guides such negative attitudes about these programs that assist the needy in the United States.


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