Are 'cultures of worklessness' passed down the generations?: summary

Document type
Shildrick, Tracy; MacDonald, Robert; Furlong, Andy
Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Date of publication
1 December 2012
Employment, Families
Social welfare
Material type

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The idea that worklessness can be explained by families passing on values and practices that discourage employment and encourage welfare dependency is a powerful one, popular with UK governments and the general public. There is, however, little research evidence to support this idea. Using methods and locations most likely to reveal such families, this study tested the idea of ‘intergenerational cultures of worklessness’. Life-history interviews with different generations of the same family investigated how far a ‘culture of worklessness’ might explain long term detachment from the labour market and, if so, whether this was passed down through the generations. Despite strenuous efforts, the researchers were unable to locate any such families. Even two generations of complete worklessness in the same family was a very rare phenomenon, which is consistent with recent quantitative surveys of this issue. Families experiencing long-term worklessness remained committed to the value of work and preferred to be in jobs rather than on benefits.

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